“I’m a narc. I’ve been a narcotics guy forever,” says San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr. “But I’m just telling you, I’ve always felt bad for the people that were addicted to drugs.”
Suhr is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, George Gascon, who is now District Attorney in the city and who began the process of de-emphasizing drug enforcement in the midst of cutbacks to the police force in the wake of the 2007 recession. Since Suhr has taken over, he’s disbanded most of the force’s narcotics unit, and drug arrests have plummeted by 85 percent.
Suhr is no fan of drug legalization. He views drug addiction as a serious public health problem, a debatable assertion with its own set of dubious public policy implications, and he looks upon drug dealers with scorn and says they are preying on the sick.
But regardless of the questionable nature of Suhr’s underlying logic, San Franciso offers an enticing glimpse at what American cities might begin to look like if drugs were legalized or decriminalized. Suhr’s department still makes arrests for drug dealing, but only on a complaint-driven basis. They don’t go out of their way to set up stings or raids. And while causation does not equal correlation, Suhr believes that the drop in violent crime since the shift in policy began indicates that his department has its priorities straight.
“Not trying to just keep a stat game going on arresting people for narcotics has not hurt us in trying to achieve our goal in trying to make San Franciso safest,” says Suhr.