San Francisco police gaffes good for prison realignment plans 

Two drug-related police scandals inadvertently have helped The City prepare for an influx of inmates under the state’s recently implemented prison realignment plan.

The inmate population at San Francisco’s jails dropped sharply in early 2010 after the Police Department’s drug lab scandal came to light and again this year after allegations began surfacing about police misconduct during drug raids at residential hotels, Sheriff’s Department statistics show.

Click on the photo at right to see charts of prison populations.

By Oct. 3, when courts began redirecting prisoners convicted of minor offenses to county jails instead of state prisons, San Francisco jails were running at just 60 percent of capacity.

“The crime lab fiasco, which has led to what appears to be far fewer prosecutions and possibly fewer arrests for minor drug offenses, has definitely contributed to a lowering of the county jail population,” Sheriff Michael Hennessey said. He said he hasn’t examined the effect of the more recent scandal.

And ironically, all those empty beds at the jail are now serving The City well as it prepares to reabsorb hundreds of inmates convicted of nonviolent, nonserious and nonsex offenses.

In March 2010, former San Francisco Police Department criminalist Debbie Madden was accused of taking cocaine from evidence. In response, former police Chief George Gascón shut down the drug lab and prosecutors subsequently dismissed about 700 criminal cases, leading to the release of hundreds of jail inmates.

The steepest drop in the inmate population took place at the height of the Madden scandal, between March and May 2010, when the number of inmates plummeted by 350, from 1,982 to 1,632.

Gascón agreed that the crime lab’s problems played a role in the jail population decline. But he said drug arrests had begun to decrease even before then, as he directed the Police Department to begin focusing on more serious drug sales, particularly those related to other violent crimes, such as robberies.

Police Department statistics show that citywide drug arrests dropped 39 percent in 2010, and another 24 percent so far this year. Still, over time, the jail’s population gradually began to climb again. By February, the number of inmates had increased to about 1,800.

Then the second scandal broke in early March, when Public Defender Jeff Adachi released the first of several videos allegedly depicting illegal drug raids by undercover officers at residential hotels in the South of Market, Tenderloin and Mission. Among Adachi’s allegations were illegal entry, falsifying police reports and theft. No officers have yet been charged in connection with the allegations, although several were taken off the streets.
Gascón, now the district attorney, had prosecutors dismiss more than 100 cases connected to the misconduct allegations. The jail population once again declined, to a low of less than 1,500 this month.

“I’m sure that that had an impact, there’s no question,” Gascón said.

Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak said an increasing number of drug cases being sent to community courts also could help account for the decrease.

Hennessey is bracing for an additional 140 inmates each month for the next two to three months as he hopes to keep his population well below the jail’s capacity of 2,432.

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Ari Burack

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