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Friday, September 23, 2011

SF Cops Join LA's Finest In Disputing RAND Study's Findings That Marijuana Clubs Don't Cause Crime

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge Not the club's fault
  • Not the club's fault

What with the company's deep connections to the American war machine, the RAND Corporation isn't exactly a pack of hippies. Which makes it all the more surprising that the policy-think tank released a study this week declaiming that medical marijuana dispensaries cause a decrease in crime, contradicting what many law enforcement officials near and far have been claiming for years.

Law enforcement officials in Los Angeles -- the city from which the study's data originated -- slammed the study as deeply flawed. And when contacted by SF Weekly, a San Francisco Police Department spokesman expressed doubt. "It's hard to track, but [crime] near cannabis clubs is a very common occurrence," department spokesman Officer Carlos M. Manfredi said. "Cannabis clubs have a lot of money and a lot of weed; those things cause a criminal element to gravitate toward [dispensaries]."

This is hard to quantify, Manifredi noted, because the SFPD's Comstat crime-tracking system wouldn't report whether a robbery at the 24th and Mission BART had anything to do with the two dispensaries within an eight-block radius.

Despite outcry from the Police Commission, SFPD officials have been repeating the clubs-cause-crime mantra for years without issue -- and indeed, one former district captain, called to task specifically for these claims, was subsequently promoted to assistant chief.

The RAND study compared city blocks in urban Los Angeles that, prior to a June 2010 action by the LA City Attorney which forced them to close, had marijuana dispensaries on them to blocks that still had dispensaries. The study found that "crime increased in the vicinity of closed dispensaries, compared with those allowed to remain open -- and increased as much as 59 percent when a dispensary closed, the study said.

Both the LA City Attorney and the LA County Sheriff blasted the study as "deeply flawed" (LAPD, whose Chief Charlie Beck once famously said that pot clubs don't cause any more crime than, say, banks, has yet to comment).

In San Francisco, then-police Capt. Denise Schmitt, who commanded Taraval Station in the Sunset District, claimed in 2010 a strong link between dispensaries and nearby crime, saying in a letter to the Planning Commission that "strong-arm robberies" and other evils follow once a block allows a pot club to move in. This drew the anger of Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus, who demanded to see facts to back up the SFPD's assertions

The SFPD, for its part, could not provide any information to back up those particular claims. Schmitt has since been promoted to Assistant Chief, and indeed, was on at least one occasion rumored to be in the contention to succeed George Gascon and interim Chief Jeff Godown as head of the department.

From the perspective of the SFPD, Manfredi -- who walked beats in the Mission and Bayview Districts for nine years before joining the Media Relations unit -- explains that pot clubs cause crime in the same way an iPod will cause crime: it's a target for a criminal. "It's a crime of opportunity," he noted, while adding that marijuana advocates' claim that the security guards and cameras that come along with dispensaries are a crime deterrent. "Any responsible person would agree that adding any retail store with a security camera would be beneficial to any community," he said. "But to say that it'll reduce crime because it's a cannabis club doesn't make sense." 

"I wouldn't say having a cannabis club reduces crime," he concluded. 

It's worth noting that this isn't the finest week for SF's dispensaries, at least from a crime perspective: just a few days ago, a man walking out of Divinity Tree on Geary Street in the Tenderloin was robbed at gunpoint of 1.25 pounds of medical cannabis and cash, and in the broad daylight of 12:53 p.m.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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