Governor of California Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference in Beijing on October 25, 2023. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images)
With more than 620 overdoses so far this year in San Francisco, on pace to set a record in the city, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Oct. 27 the formation of a new task force focusing on deaths related to drug sales and charging dealers with murder, when applicable.
“The opioid crisis has claimed too many, and fentanyl traffickers must be held accountable including, as appropriate, for murder,” Mr. Newsom said in a press release announcing the new investigation unit. “This task force is fighting for those affected by this crisis—for victims and loved ones who deserve peace.”
A collaboration between the governor and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, and Police Chief Bill Scott, the new task force will investigate opioid related deaths and poisonings.
Members include representatives from the San Francisco Police Department, the district attorney’s office, the California Highway Patrol, and the California National Guard.
Investigations will be treated like homicide cases—with evidence gathered to assist with prosecutions and to help uncover drug trafficking networks and crime syndicates in the city.
Such is needed to address the growing number of overdoses and instances of drug abuse visible downtown, according to city officials, who warned dealers that murder charges are coming for those responsible for deaths.
Homeless people stand on the sidewalk among alleged drug dealers in San Francisco on Feb. 23, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
“Fentanyl is deadlier than any drug we’ve ever seen on our streets,” Mayor Breed said in the governor’s press release. “We must treat the trafficking and sale of fentanyl more severely and people must be put on notice that pushing this drug could lead to homicide charges.”
A new focus on deaths as potential homicide cases will alter future prosecutions, as prior investigations were not as comprehensive, according to the district attorney.
“The new task force will equip the City and County of San Francisco with a deeply necessary investigative ability,” Ms. Jenkins said in the press release. “Drug dealers and traffickers have caused the death of far too many individuals in our community, and this new tool will give us a better chance to hold them accountable for the true dangerousness of their conduct.”
The city’s police chief said his department is in lock-step with officials.
“We refuse to stand idly by as fentanyl dealers continue to profit from the tragic deaths they are causing in our city,” Mr. Scott said in the press release. “We are proud to stand with our city and state partners to better hold these dealers accountable and make San Francisco safe for all.”
Highway patrol investigations have uncovered 18.5 kilograms of fentanyl leading to 364 arrests in San Francisco since May 1, and Commissioner Sean Duryee said the department is working tirelessly to dismantle distribution rings in the Tenderloin and other areas in the city.
Homeless people gather near alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco on Feb. 22, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
“The California Highway Patrol is proud to be part of this innovative law enforcement collaboration happening in San Francisco to map out the crime rings fueling the fentanyl pipeline — and ultimately crush them,” Mr. Duryee said in the governor’s announcement. “Our skilled investigators are unmatched in their commitment to serve the people of California, solve crime, and bring justice.”
With fentanyl impacting families and loved ones across the state, the new task force builds on the governor’s $1 billion so-called Master Plan
—announced in March—to address the opioid crisis.
While critics argue that criminal justice measures are ineffective and suggest more education and rehabilitation efforts are needed, the governor said he is aware of the challenges inherent with substance abuse and is focused on maintaining a balance between enforcement for dealers and help for individuals suffering from addiction—with more money slated for treatment than penalties in the governor’s plan.
“Working together, we will continue providing treatment and resources to help those struggling with substance use—and secure justice for families who have lost loved ones,” Mr. Newsom said in the press release.