San Francisco passes measures to mandate drug testing for welfare recipients, widening police powers

The passage of the measures comes as the city struggles with rising crime, poverty, open air drug markets, and fleeing businesses. 

San Francisco passes measures to mandate drug testing for welfare recipients and widens police powers
AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez
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Residents of San Francisco voted in favor of expanding police powers earlier this week to include a wider scope of vehicle pursuits and the utilization of drones and surveillance cameras to tackle crime. 

Included in this expansion was the requirement of drug tests for single adults receiving welfare and housing assistance. Benefits will be revoked for those who decline to undergo testing, as reported by the Associated Press. 

The passage of the measures comes as the city struggles with rising crime, poverty, open-air drug markets, and fleeing businesses. 

The proposals were approved by substantial margins. The police reform initiative was particularly popular, winning approval by nearly a 20-point margin. This measure allows police more discretion in initiating vehicle pursuits, particularly in cases where suspects are fleeing. Currently, police pursuits are limited to situations involving suspected violent felons or when there is an immediate threat to public safety.

The new measure also permits the use of drones, facial recognition technology, and other forms of surveillance to enhance crime-fighting efforts.

Under a new policy that won by a 26-point margin, impoverished and homeless adults under 65 without dependent children are now required to undergo drug testing. Those failing the screening must participate in treatment programs to remain eligible for San Francisco’s financial assistance and housing aid. Failure to pass a drug test and refusal to enter treatment will result in ineligibility for these benefits.

By adopting these measures, the staunchly liberal city diverged from the stance of progressive organizations such as the ACLU, which vocally opposed the police surveillance initiative.

San Francisco's Democratic Mayor, London Breed, who supported both measures, is currently battling to maintain her political position amid escalating challenges. These include businesses closing or relocating from the city in large numbers, driven by rising crime rates, homelessness, and a spike in drug overdose fatalities.

Delivering a severe setback to the lenient approach towards crime that progressive ideologies in solidly Democratic California had championed until recently, the results mark a significant shift. Occurring at a time when Californians have voiced their concerns about crime through polls for the past few years, these outcomes emerge as federal data reveals an increase in the state's crime rates, even though there is a national trend of declining crime.

Speaking on Thursday, Breed declared in her annual State of the City address that she intends to steer the city back on the right path, announcing that she intends to bring 30,000 new residents and students to the city's downtown core as part of its revival.

“This is the year of the dragon and we will soar again,” she said. 

The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

The mayor also talked about how to make San Francisco into a city that says “yes,” a possible reference to her argument that the city’s bureaucracy, its many oversight commissions and the Board of Supervisors blocks her agenda on housing and economic development. She said she and supervisors would close the city’s massive deficit this summer but would “not weaken our public safety to do so,” and she vowed to veto “any piece of anti-housing legislation that comes across my desk.”


While Breed’s administration has already launched various efforts to revitalize the city’s struggling downtown, negative news about the urban core continues to mount, most recently with the news that Macy’s planned to sell and close its flagship store in Union Square.

But the immense changes under way in San Francisco, Breed said, also present opportunities. In addition to seeking an influx of 30,000 downtown residents in the next six years, Breed said the city must support new industries to fill the empty offices that abound in the Financial District and adjacent neighborhoods. She spoke about moving downtown away from its roots as a 9-to-5 office district and toward a new future as a 24/7 neighborhood with a vibrant arts and entertainment scene.

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