Pubdate: Tue, 11 May 1999
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: A15
Copyright: 1999 San Francisco Chronicle
Author: John Wildermuth, Chronicle Staff Writer
Note: Chronicle staff writer Edward Epstein contributed to this report.


Drive-up drug buyers could find themselves pounding the pavement under a
plan that would seize the car of anyone arrested for buying drugs.

The measure was announced by Mayor Willie Brown yesterday and introduced in
the Board of Supervisors by Supervisor Amos Brown.

The new program, which also calls for seizing the cars of people soliciting
prostitutes, is similar to one that has been operating in Oakland since 1997.

"Any time we have drug dealing and/or solicitation of prostitution in our
neighborhoods, the quality of life decreases in that neighborhood," Mayor
Brown said. "We cannot -- and will not -- tolerate that."

According to the most recent San Francisco Police Department statistics,
more than half the people arrested on drug-buying charges have been

"The measure targets buyers, who are frequently from out of town," the mayor
said. "We want to make it more difficult for (people) to come out to San
Francisco and buy drugs. We want to send out a state-of-the-art message
saying, `Don't do drugs in San Francisco.'"

Drying up the demand for drugs by targeting buyers would force dealers out
of business, Brown said.

Supervisor Brown echoed the mayor's concerns.

"We have a problem with people coming from other counties in their very
sleek cars" to commit crimes, he said. "When they leave, they leave behind a
trail of problems."

The mayor held one of his regular meetings focusing on the city's growing
drug problem yesterday with a group of 20 federal, state and local
officials. The news he heard was not all good.

Deputy Police Chief Rich Holder described how at least four or five dealers
surrounded his car at Geary and Hyde streets one afternoon and tried to sell
him drugs.

"I was in an unmarked car on the way to the gym with my children, 3 years
old and 7 years old," he said. "This is in broad daylight at 1 p.m. in the

"I know that those complaints you hear from the community (about brazen drug
dealing) are true."

A recent documentary on HBO pictured San Francisco as a center for young
heroin addicts. The film showed junkies shooting up on street corners, in
alleys and in the city's new street toilets, where for a quarter, addicts
can lock themselves away for as much as 20 minutes of privacy.

The street toilets "are not only being used as shooting galleries, but
they're also used by prostitutes to do business," said police Lieutenant
Kitt Crenshaw, a narcotics officer.

The documentary did not show anything local police were not aware of, the
mayor said, since there already have been alarming reports about the
increased number of drug addicts and dealers on the city streets.

"It was simply a confirmation of something that we already have been working
on," he said.

Although police keep making arrests, they have not stopped the problem at
such drug-dealing hot spots as the 16th and Mission BART station.

"We made 116 arrests (in that area) last month, and you go out there today
and it looks like we haven't done anything," Crenshaw said. "The same people
are back out there."

The mayor is confident that the car-seizure program would have an effect on
drug use in the city.

"Do any of those (drug users) have cars?" he asked. "Well they won't
anymore. Any car we get has to be at least equal to the cost of seizure, so
we should nail them all, even take the junkers."

What will drive the seizure program, however, will not be the $200 beaters
owned by some of the junkies.

"Let one user lose a BMW, and we won't have any more users," the mayor said.

Under the ordinance introduced yesterday, the car of a person who uses one
when buying drugs or soliciting a prostitute can be seized upon the person's
arrest. Even if the person is not convicted, the car can be sold by the city
if it can be shown that the vehicle was used for those illicit purposes.

Money from the sale will be divided among drug education and prevention
programs and either the district attorney or city attorney's office.

"(Drug buyers') losses will be a gain for San Francisco's drug education
programs," Mayor Brown said.

The proposed seizure ordinance will probably be challenged by the American
Civil Liberties Union, which has unsuccessfully tried to block the Oakland

"We have a problem with the notion of forfeiture," said Alan Schlosser,
managing attorney for the Northern California ACLU. "If someone is arrested
for sale of marijuana, which normally means a $100 fine, they can lose a
$20,000 or $30,000 automobile. Some courts have ruled that excessive."

The mayor does not plan to back away from a legal battle with the ACLU, however.

"They don't have the responsibility of cleaning the streets; we do," the
mayor said.

Chronicle staff writer Edward Epstein contributed to this report.

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