San Francisco Voters Deliver Blow to Soft-on-Crime Policies

City votes to crack down on drug users and boost police powers

A San Francisco police car sits parked in front of the Hall of Justice (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
March 6, 2024

San Francisco residents on Tuesday voted to let police conduct more vehicle chases and deploy drones and surveillance cameras to fight crime. They also ordered mandatory drug screening for childless adults who receive welfare and housing assistance—benefits that will now be yanked from those who refuse testing.

Both measures passed by wide margins. The police initiative, which voters approved by nearly 20 points, would give law enforcement more leeway in when and why they can chase down suspects fleeing in vehicles. Officers are currently barred from chasing suspected thieves and can only go after those who they believe have committed a violent felony or pose immediate danger to the public. Police would also be able to deploy drones, facial recognition, and other surveillance technology to fight crime.

The welfare measure, which passed by 26 points, would require poor and homeless adults under 65 and without dependent children to be tested for drug use, and if they don't pass their screening they would have to enter treatment to receive San Francisco's cash payments and housing assistance. Those who fail a drug test and refuse to receive treatment will not be eligible for benefits.

In passing these initiatives, the deep-blue city bucked progressive groups like the ACLU, which strongly condemned the police surveillance measure. Both measures were backed by San Francisco Democratic mayor London Breed, who is fighting for her political survival as businesses shutter or leave the city in droves due to crime and homelessness, and drug overdose deaths soar.

The results deal a harsh blow to soft-on-crime progressive orthodoxy that just four years ago seemed entrenched in deep-blue California. They come at a time when Californians for the past few years have decried the crime problem in polls and federal stats show crime rates going up in the state even as they decline nationally.