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San Francisco voters approve drug screening for welfare recipients

They also favored another measure promoted by Mayor London Breed that expands police powers. She said they would improve public safety and address the city’s drug crisis.
London Breed
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, center left, walks in the city's Chinatown district to encourage people to vote in the primary election Tuesday.Godofredo A. Vásquez / AP

San Francisco voters showed strong support for a ballot measure that requires welfare recipients who receive aid from the city and are “reasonably” suspected of using drugs to be screened and enroll in treatment.

They also favored another measure that eases restrictions on police officers.

The approvals were seen as wins for Mayor London Breed, who faces a tough re-election fight in November over concerns that she has been weak on crime. She put the measures on the ballot with the intention of improving public safety and addressing the city’s drug crisis, she has said.

But opponents say the measures could exacerbate those issues, as well as homelessness, and will not make the public safer.

London Breed
Mayor London Breed speaks to supporters at an election night party Tuesday in San Francisco.Godofredo A. Vásquez / AP

Proposition E, which reduces the power of the citizen police oversight commission, garnered almost 60% of the vote. It also authorizes the police department to use drones and surveillance cameras; requires written reports for use-of-force incidents only when a physical injury occurred or when a firearm was removed from an officer’s holster; and gives police more freedom to pursue suspects in vehicles.

Proposition F requires people 65 and younger without dependents who receive cash welfare assistance from the city and it “reasonably suspects” are dependent on illegal drugs to submit to screening and treatment to remain eligible for aid. It drew more than 60% of the vote.

The measure did not indicate what it means to “reasonably” suspect someone is using drugs, and a spokesperson for Breed’s office said specifics are yet to be determined. There were 813 accidental overdose deaths in the city in 2023, according to the chief medical examiner’s office.

Both measures go into effect on Jan. 1.

Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, said support for the measures does not signal that the famously progressive city is moving to the right.

“It’s an overreach,” he said. “It’s an incorrect read of what’s happening. Voters are not becoming more conservative. They are still predominantly liberal and being pro-police is consistent with their liberal values.”

Many of the city's liberal voters support government services for people in need, he said, which could indicate why Proposition F drew as much support as it did.

Kevin Benedicto, a member of the city’s police commission, said he personally opposed Proposition E because “it reduces important safeguards and guardrails that San Francisco has carefully placed on law enforcement.”

Reducing the safeguards around dangerous pursuits, surveillance technology and officer-involved shootings is not the solution, he said.

“Comprehensive public safety does not have to come at the expense of accountability,” he said.

Since then-San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin's recall in 2022, the most important issues to voters have been public safety, crime, homelessness and drug use, McDaniel said.

He said the success of the measures was a positive step for Breed’s campaign, which is still very vulnerable because some believe she has allowed those issues to fester during her five years in office.

Daniel Lurie and Mark Farrell, fellow moderate Democrats, are among Breed’s top challengers. Lurie is the founder of a nonprofit. Farrell was interim mayor from January to July 2018. Both supported her ballot measures but have said she could have enacted them sooner. Still, their support of the measures bodes well for Breed, McDaniel said.

Breed thanked supporters of the measures, saying Proposition E would help her to build on her work to make San Francisco safer and Proposition F would bring more treatment and accountability to the city. She said crime was down last year and these measures would continue that progress.