SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is taking a tougher approach to the city's drug crisis.
Jenkins said her office will pursue second-degree murder charges against fentanyl dealers linked to an overdose death.
She said, "the level of death and misery on our streets is unacceptable. We have to send a strong message in the community and in the courtroom that we will not stand by and allow dealers to kill innocent people and those suffering from addiction."
The district attorney also said her office will seek to keep some suspected drug dealers in police custody before their trial begins.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 474 people in the city died of a drug overdose last year. The city's chief medical examiner said this year alone, there have been 391 accidental overdose deaths, and 70% of them attributed to fentanyl.
Since 2016, there has been a 2000% increase in overdose deaths.
Legal analyst Michael Cardoza weighed in on Jenkins' approach.
"Do I think it will have a drastic effect and wipe out drug-selling? I’m not that naive, and I don't think she is, or the government is, but it would give them another arrow in their quiver to use against drug dealers, one that hasn't been used in San Francisco," said Cardoza.
In the past couple of years, district attorneys in Sonoma, Placer, and San Bernardino counties have charged drug dealers with second-degree murder.
"San Francisco was known as being very lax and a wonderful place to sell drugs," Cardoza said. "The message she's sending is, it's not going to be so friendly to you anymore."
Critics of Jenkins' approach said it's a repeat of the tough-on-crime policies in the 80s and 90s that led to high incarceration rates and didn't solve the problem of addiction.
"These types of prosecutions do not deter. They do not reduce the demand for drugs and they do not increase public safety," said Anita Nabha, managing attorney of felony unit with the San Francisco public defender's office.
"The prosecutions aren't going to target the kingpins – the high-level dealers. What we're seeing in the courts day in, day out, are the same vulnerable poor, Black and brown community members that are relatively low subsistence dealers that are being prosecuted," Nabha said. She has called this policy political grandstanding and that it's unrealistic given limited resources.
SF Public Defender Mano Raju said such prosecutions are harmful and could actually lead to more overdoses. "As the shameful War on Drugs showed us, we cannot arrest, prosecute, & cage our way out of a public health crisis," he said.
John Hamasaki, Jenkins' political opponent in the upcoming D.A.'s race in November, elaborated by saying if people are using drugs together, and one overdoses, "no one is going to stick around and try and help and risk life in prison."