SFPD, Pot Shops Work on Their Communication

A virtual meeting provided a forum to discuss recent robberies and best practices.

Addressing an audience of windows on a screen, Luke Stickney of Burke Extracts in the Bayview estimated that his business was hit “seven or eight times” between May 30 and June 1. He also voiced displeasure over two officers who responded to an alarm that was triggered but allegedly departed the premises with the door left ajar.

While details on that specific incident remain unconfirmed (Stickney did not respond to requests for comment), the episode was indicative of a chaotic period for the local cannabis industry, a period which overlapped with initial protests over the killing of George Floyd by police officers on Memorial Day. As owners heard word of broken windows and stolen inventory, some complained of delayed response times — or, in a few cases, no response at all — after calling SFPD for help.

Now, San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis is looking to repair this fracture in communication between law enforcement and legal cannabis operators. Most recently, their efforts took the form of a Zoom meeting. Held on Aug. 18, OOC Director Marisa Rodriguez invited a number of SFPD officials and cannabis business owners to come together to discuss what happened at the end of May as well as best practices for moving forward.

In a Zoom meeting that featured commentary from five city police captains, as well as presentations from several operators who were hit during the spree, including California Street Cannabis Co. owner Drakari Donaldson and Flower Power dispensary owner Wendy McPherson, the focus was notably not on placing blame but in preventing more crimes in the future.

“These meetings give SFPD and cannabis business operators the safe, unique, and much-needed sacred space to come together, lean in, and share mutually honest feedback to advance public safety,” said the Office of Cannabis in a statement provided to SF Weekly. “It’s important that this trust between the industry and law enforcement is encouraged and has the opportunity to fully develop for both sides.”

Part of the issue naturally stems from the fact that, prior to legalization, calling the police was literally not an option. Even in the so-called “grey area” that defined the years following the passage of Prop. 215, the nebulous nature of the law itself meant communications between cops and cannabis operators remained few and far between.

By contrast, the message shared by SFPD on Tuesday’s Zoom call was one of encouragement — specifically that operators more frequently engage with their neighborhood beat officers. That this request is coming against a backdrop of widespread calls for police reform only makes the whole situation all the more complex.

However, if the alternative is operators protecting their property with baseball bats (as one such owner attested to doing during the Zoom session), the need for immediate alternatives appears both glaring and urgent.

SFPD Public Information Officer Michael Andraychak echoed the importance of collaboration between sides in a statement provided to SF Weekly.

“It’s important for business owners and law enforcement to work collaboratively in crime prevention and investigation of crimes when they do occur. We encourage business owners and operators to provide up-to-date emergency contact information to their local police station so we can contact a responsible party should something occur when the business is closed.”

Andraychak also highlighted another topic that was frequently raised during the Zoom: surveillance footage and SFPD’s access to it.

“Law enforcement also relies on cooperation from the community in terms of providing us with information and surveillance video,” he noted, “which is an important source that oftentimes leads to suspects’ identities. Investigators follow-up on all leads and are the point of contact when it comes to updating victims on the progress of investigations.”  

As far as first steps go, the Office of Cannabis voiced confidence that the Aug. 18 gathering could be the start of something long-lasting and sustainable.

“The meeting was remarkably well attended, by both groups, and the concrete set of best practices that emerged from the conversation show that both operators and law enforcement came ready to be receptive of one another’s needs,” the OOC’s statement noted. “We look forward to having future meetings that are just as successful.” 

Beyond highlighting a need to patch-up relations between San Francisco police and legal cannabis operators, the meeting also featured a bit of impromptu solidarity between owners in the form of sharing tips of the trade. Be it the details on a security system or the concept of employing one central security firm to represent several businesses in areas of condensed industry like the Bayview, the value of open communication was unquestionably proven.

Can such a comradery extend to the police? Such an outcome remains to be seen, but for now, at least all sides are talking.

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