Black Market Street: SFPD Drug Crime Stats

Josh Edelson
Last week's feature story, "Black Market Street," explored the open-air drug market centered on the Market and Jones corner. Shop owners said that the dealing has increased ever since medical marijuana cards entered the scene and allowed hustlers to legally carry small amounts of weed. Police officers said that staffing reductions had hindered the department's ability to catch dealers in the act.

Here's what San Francisco Police Department drug crime stats for the Mid-Market area ("anything that occurred on Market including intersections between Fifth and 10th," according to SFPD officer Albie Esparza) from 2004 to 2011 say:

See also: Black Market Street: Inside a Thriving Open-Air Drug Business


Police department stats are notoriously ambiguous -- filled with variables and reporting standards that shift from year to year. They do not provide a definitive portrait of a city's crime scene, but a single component of a greater narrative. As such, a few arbitrary facts can help contextualize -- though not necessarily explain -- the numbers.

In 2006, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance stating that marijuana offenses would be city law enforcement's "lowest priority." That policy coincided with the beginning of a rise in reported narcotics incidents in Mid-Market -- from 251 in 2005 to 459 in 2008.

In 2008, the SFPD had 2,375 sworn officers, according to a 2009 pamphlet soliciting applications for the SFPD Police Chief job opening. By 2011, the department had fewer than 1,800. During that stretch, however, reported narcotics incidents in Mid-Market dropped by more than two-thirds, from 459 to 144. It is hard to say how much of this drop is because there was less drug dealing, how much is because there were less officers on the street to spot the drug dealing, and how much is because officers shifted their focus to other crimes.

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