As we reported in our October feature story "Black Market Street," buy-busts "are often the most effective strategy for catching drug dealers." But, as one Tenderloin beat officer told us, budget cuts, and the resulting staff reductions, have reduced the number of undercover police purchases in the Mid-Market neighborhood, where the street weed industry is booming. "Nowadays, buy-busts and extra foot patrols are a luxury," the officer said.
Haight and Market streets -- two of the city's most dependable marijuana outlets -- present contrasting examples of the city's ability to combat illicit street dealing.
Mid-Market, particularly the around the Market-Jones street corner, is primarily commercial. The loitering drug dealers along the block significantly disrupt just a handful of small businesses. When those business owners call the police, a squad car pulls up, the dealers disperse, then the squad car eventually leaves, and the dealers return. Marwan Eadeh, who owns World of Stereo, is thinking of moving his shop once his lease ends.
On Haight Street, the resistance appears to stem from residents. "To many residents, the arrests are a welcome relief in a neighborhood they say is overrun by aggressive vagrants and dealers," according to the Chron. "After residents complained to the Police Commission in February about open marijuana dealing, an impatient Chief Greg Suhr ordered a buy-bust team into the district and replaced the district's captain with Corrales."
A group of 30 or so locals formed Residents Against Druggies:
A few nights a week, they armed themselves with two-way radios and walked the streets, looking for buyers and dealers.
"If we saw someone we suspected of buying, we would circle around them and just make them so uncomfortable they didn't want to buy," recalled Susan Strolis, a waitress who moved to the neighborhood in 1985.
On Haight there is an overt public outcry against the dealing, a resistance to the presence of "aggressive vagrants and dealers" who affect the neighborhood's quality of life.
In Mid-Market, though, serious crimes are more prevalent, with the Tenderloin on one side and the gritty edges of SOMA on the other. For the officers of the Tenderloin and Southern districts -- which share the Mid-Market patrol -- weed dealing can be somewhat of a lesser concern.
From January to mid-November, the Tenderloin district saw 308 robberies and 264 aggravated assaults; the Southern district saw 478 robberies and 355 aggravated assaults. In contrast, the Park district, which houses Haight Street, had 123 robberies and 93 aggravated assaults.
Not that the Tenderloin and Southern cops turn a blind eye to drug laws. Over that same stretch, Tenderloin officers have made 1313 drug-related arrests and Southern officers have made 531. For Park officers, that number is 233.
But those rates do not necessarily reflect a hard-line in the Mid-Market area. In all of 2011, the neighborhood had 159 narcotics arrests.