SFPD, On Hook to Release Marijuana Arrest Stats to City Hall, Fails to Do So

Categories: Marijuana
Another anonymous, unknown statistic
Running a city is not easy. We get it. It'd be foolish to expect a place as complex and sometimes-provincial as San Francisco to always smoothly operate, yet occasionally there's a municipal breakdown that defies easy explanation. And, it's quite possible, city law.

Take the Marijuana Offenses Oversight Committee (MOOC). The City Hall-sanctioned body was formed by the Board of Supervisors and is under the jurisdiction of the General Services Agency (Mayor Ed Lee's old stamping grounds). It has a few key tasks, but none more important than ensuring the city adheres to its "Lowest Priority Ordinance," the law which -- in theory -- makes nonviolent marijuana crime the "lowest priority" for San Francisco cops.

To do this, MOOC is charged with requesting marijuana arrest totals from the police department. SFPD is supposed to release these numbers to MOOC, which then advises the Board of Supervisors on law enforcement trends and suggests reforms to ensure the city is adhering to its own laws. In past years, MOOC has been able to do its job. It required much haranguing and hand-wringing to get the SFPD to release the numbers, but release the numbers the SFPD always did.

This year, however?
No response, no calls, nothing, according to Catherine Smith, a medical cannabis dispensary operator who sits on MOOC's board. The stoners have been stonewalled. "We've done everything I can think of," says Smith, who says that multiple requests sent via registered mail as long as three months ago have gone unanswered. "I don't know what else to do." This year's numbers would be particularly interesting to flesh out: in 2010, as the state geared up for Proposition 19 and as numerous marijuana-themed events and expos sprouted up around the Bay Area, the SFPD reported a 17 percent increase in marijuana busts. While troubling at first consideration, it's quite possible that such a spike can be tied to an overall increase in the availability and proliferation of marijuana -- like the feds' plant seizure totals, which have gone up since 2006 -- but without cops to contextualize this for us, we're left to speculate.

Speaking of those cops, they're busy. Department brass was unavailable, and an inquiry with the narcotics unit wasn't immediately returned, according to spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak. We figure it's because everyone was tied up Friday with the firefighter funeral, and we'll update when we hear back.

One possible reason for the delay is the game of musical chairs that's been ongoing at SFPD for the better part of a year. John Loftus, the bureau commander to whom MOOC reported in the past, was recently busted to captain and reassigned. Since then, MOOC has gone through three contacts at SFPD. Who's the go-to guy now? "I honestly couldn't tell you," Smith said.

A representative from the Public Defender's office also sits on MOOC, but is away on paternity leave until June 20.

We'll leave you with what we do know: in April, after it was reported that plainclothes cops busted a Richmond District medical marijuana patient after they spent some time sniffing around an apartment complex (in seeming violation of Lowest Priority), a police spokesman told us that Lowest Priority was over. Cops don't change practices until they receive a bulletin from the chief, and the last chief to issue such an order was Heather Fong in 2005. Bulletins expire after a couple of years, police said, which means that as far as SFPD is concerned, lowest priority is over.

Does that mean MOOC's days are numbered? Smith hopes not, but the options are limited. "Aside from going to every member of the Board of Supervisors and begging them to help us," she said, "I don't know what to do."

Not become another one of these arrest numbers, at the very least. Whatever they are.

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The police must chafe at being tasked with digging up stats to prove that they're focused on non-cannabis crimes, especially with staffing challenges. But it's no huge mystery what the committee can/should do to prompt an official response: File a California Public Records Act request. The cops would be hard-pressed to justify withholding records they've provided previously, and the city's attorney could give proper weight to the CPRA request even if those at SFPD do not.

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