Voters show strong support for San Francisco measures to compel drug treatment, expand police powers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco voters showed strong support for a pair of controversial public safety ballot measure that expand police powers and compel treatment for adult welfare recipients who use illegal drugs, two efforts Mayor London Breed said would crack down on crime and the city's drug crisis.

Proposition E grants police greater leeway to pursue suspects in vehicles, authorizes the use of drones and surveillance cameras and reduces paperwork requirements, including in use-of-force cases. Proposition F makes drug treatment mandatory for adult welfare recipients if they use illicit substances, or else they can be denied cash assistance.

Breed, who placed both measures on the ballot, claimed victory Tuesday night as both measures had commanding leads in partial returns, though it was not clear how many votes were left to count. Opponents acknowledged the measures were likely to pass and said they will not make the public safer.

“We want people to seek treatment and many people do, but the reality is others are not willing or able to do so,” Breed said in a statement. “We are also sending a message that we are a city that offers help but not a city where you can just come and do whatever you want on our streets.”

Opponents of the measures accused tech billionaires of trying to buy the election and peppering voters with misleading information. They bemoaned low voter turnout.

“What is disheartening is the record low turnout for this presidential primary,” said Celi Tamayo-Lee, executive director of San Francisco Rising, which advocates for working-class and minority communities.

“What has been counted is not the voice of all voters,” they said.

Breed, a centrist Democrat, is in a tough reelection battle and faces three serious opponents this year who say her administration has failed to deal with drug crimes, vandalism and theft. There is no primary in San Francisco — voters will rank all the candidates by preference in the November election.

Supporters of the two propositions far outspent opponents. They include tech-backed civic advocacy groups and CEOs like Chris Larsen of the cryptocurrency firm Ripple and Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp.

Along with its other changes, Prop. E reduces the powers of the citizen police oversight commission, which the mayor says is micromanaging the department. The change regarding vehicle pursuits modifies the current policy, which allows them only in cases of a violent felony or immediate threat to public safety.

Opponents of the measure say the loosening of paperwork requirements will mean less transparency and the use of technology will allow greater secret surveillance. Meanwhile more vehicle pursuits will lead to more bystander deaths and injuries in a city as dense as San Francisco, they add.

Under Proposition F, single adults without dependents on local welfare — about 9,000 people a year — must be screened for illegal drug use. If they are found to be using drugs, an addiction specialist and the recipient would agree on treatment options that include residential care, a 12-step program, individual counseling and replacement medication.

There is no sobriety requirement, only that a person make a good-faith effort to participate in treatment if they want to receive cash assistance, which maxes out at just over $700 a month. Supporters include recovery advocates, who say it is far too easy for people to get and use illegal drugs in San Francisco and there are not enough options to help them become sober.

Critics say the measure is punitive and there are not enough treatment beds as it is for those who want help.

San Francisco resident Bernice Casey voted against both measures.

“People who are receiving aid should not be drug tested, and I think the police need more accountability, not less,” said Casey, a city government worker.

Charley Goss, who voted for both, said police need more tools and voters deserve a new approach to crime and drug use.

“There’s a lot of drug abuse on our streets and it manifests itself on lots of issues from public safety to quality of life,” said Goss, who works for a landlords’ association.

Both measures were very popular with fed-up voters, said Kanishka Cheng, executive director of TogetherSF Action, the political arm of TogetherSF, a civic advocacy group she co-founded at the start of the pandemic with billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz.

Even if the measures are not perfect, she said, “people are so frustrated, they’re willing to try something different. That’s the sentiment I hear from voters every day.”

Democratic leaders in liberal cities across the U.S. have had mixed results as they struggle to balance progressive criminal justice reforms with fed-up voters. In San Francisco, retail theft, record fentanyl overdose deaths, and the struggle to bounce back from the pandemic have frustrated residents and drawn negative attention from national media outlets.

Voters ousted progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin in a heated recall election in 2022, saying he was too lenient toward criminals. Across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland, progressive Mayor Sheng Thao faces a potential recall election amid a crime wave that has prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to send in California Highway Patrol officers and state prosecutors to help.

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This story corrects Kanishka Cheng's title. She is executive director of TogetherSF Action.

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AP journalist Terry Chea in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Janie Har, The Associated Press