A ‘Blame Game’? Criminal Justice Experts Debate Effort to Recall SF DA Chesa Boudin

Irina Baranova

JENKINS: For the most part I think everyone agrees, even in the street, murder is wrong and it won’t go unpunished, but when the DA creates an environment where property crime, where assault, where burglary is acceptable, where there is no consequence, where even if you are arrested, you are released within hours, at most a day or two, and you’re back out into the street, it doesn’t matter if you commit five more burglaries, you’re going to be released each time and at most get probation. At best you get diversion regardless of how many offenses you pick up.

He’s creating a landscape where criminal offenders desire to come here and commit crimes. They know that there’s no penalty.

CORRIEA: I’d just like to say, after 35 years of police work, I don’t believe criminals in their calculation are thinking about what Chesa Boudin is going to do or not do to them.

What they think about is, “What are the chances of getting maybe a tourist car with valuable items in it? What are their chances of getting caught?” Those factors weigh in. What are their chances of blending into the surroundings? How many ways can they escape? But honestly, they’re not sitting there going, “Well, in the marketplace of the Hall of Justice, how will I do?”

Criminal justice experts gathered Monday night for a debate on San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin’s recall. Top row, left to right: Megan Cassidy (San Francisco Chronicle), Marisa Lagos (KQED), Richard Corriea (retired San Francisco police commander). Middle row, left to right: Don du Bain (attorney), Brooke Jenkins (attorney), Tinisch Hollins (Californians for Safety and Justice). Bottom row, left to right: Kristen Webb (United Democratic Club); Bruce Agid (Eastern Neighborhoods Democratic Club). (Courtesy United Democratic Club)

MARISA LAGOS: Even if you support this district attorney, there’s no question that people feel unsafe. So why shouldn’t the DA be held accountable for some of the really horrific or just upsetting things we’ve seen, particularly around property crimes?

CORRIEA: Property crimes are changing because of the pandemic. The issue of poverty, drug addiction, mental illness, failed public policy, mass incarceration, discrimination, all those factors come into play.

So to say, hmm, someone is here shoplifting, it’s the DA’s fault … What about retailers that have gone from stopping people and holding them and arresting them, to not using security and passing on the cost to the consumer?

I can tell you that I never made a shoplifting arrest, ever, because they were done by private security in the stores who would call the police and sign a citizen’s arrest card, and we would take them down and book them.

The idea that a DA is going to change property crime in the city? I just don’t see it.

HOLLINS: It’s also important to mention that property crime closure rates have been sadly low in San Francisco for a very long time. That did not just start. That’s not really related to who the DA is.

CASSIDY: The DA’s office is just one arm of the criminal justice system. We’ve seen police clearance rates, particularly with property crimes, drop significantly. A lot of these crimes are not getting arrested in the first place. Do the police also share the blame for crime rates? Particularly with property crimes?

JENKINS: The issue for us is Chesa creates the landscape where criminals think this is OK behavior.

We can talk about examples where we’ve heard from the police that they will make an arrest and somebody will tell them, “That’s fine because I’ll be out in a few hours. The DA’s office isn’t going to do anything about it.” Or jail calls where they’re saying, you know what, pretty much theft is legal in San Francisco. These are the stories that we are hearing. It doesn’t take the responsibility off of the police to make arrests, of course.

I think we have to understand we are in a universe now where morale is low, I think in law enforcement, period. We keep hearing, “The DA’s office isn’t going to do anything about it, so why should I risk my safety to make an arrest?”

CORRIEA: Point of fact, Chesa has reached out to the unions and department, over and over again. What people don’t know about city government is, it’s a large blame game, and now Chesa is being blamed.

LAGOS: What is criminal justice reform, if not what Chesa is doing? 

DU BAIN: Like Mr. Corriea, I’ve been in law enforcement myself for 30 years as a prosecutor, in various counties in California. I recognize the complexity of what we do in criminal justice. I’ve known plenty of progressive district attorneys in my time, [such as] Nancy O’Malley in Alameda County. Here in San Francisco, we had both Kamala Harris and George Gascón, who were very progressive district attorneys.


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