A month after San Francisco voters ousted their progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin, the city has a new top cop.
Mayor London Breed on Thursday replaced him with Brooke Jenkins, a former San Francisco assistant district attorney who became a high-profile critic while campaigning for Boudin’s recall. Jenkins left the district attorney’s office in October after clashing with Boudin over his management style and what she considered lax policies toward criminals.
“We are a city of second chances, but the truth is we have to draw a line with people who choose hate, violence and a life of crime,” Jenkins, 40, said at a news conference on Thursday.
Nationally, Boudin’s recall was seen as a referendum on a liberal city’s handling of crime and punishment. Locally, residents said the issue was more nuanced. They were frustrated by a growing perception that squalor and burglaries had become too commonplace during the coronavirus pandemic, though there was little evidence that Boudin’s policies directly made crime significantly worse.
The changes at the district attorney’s office are the latest in a wave of recall efforts that have hit San Francisco in recent months. In March, Breed appointed three parents to the San Francisco school board following an ouster — a decision that’s already had big consequences.
When it came to district attorney, Breed said she chose Jenkins because of her experience as a prosecutor (Boudin had worked a public defender) and her determination to hold perpetrators accountable while sticking to progressive reforms. “We can and should have both in a city like San Francisco,” Breed said on Thursday.
Jenkins won’t have much time to prove herself in the job, as voters in November will decide whether she or another candidate should complete the year remaining in Boudin’s term.
Boudin has not ruled out running again. He did not respond on Thursday to a request for comment.
I spoke to Jenkins by phone on Thursday. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed:
What are some of the things you’re planning to do to reduce crime once you take office?
We have to restore our ability to hold repeat offenders accountable. One of the things that you learn really quickly as a D.A. is that there are certain crime drivers in a city. And oftentimes, a lot of the statistics are driven up by a small pool of repeat offenders. That very quickly needs to be addressed.
We’ve also been dealing with a hate crime problem in San Francisco that has spiked and has left our Asian American community feeling particularly vulnerable. And so we’re going to have to really be serious about how we handle those cases, not only the cases that already exist, but any that arise as we go forward — to send a clear message that hate in San Francisco will not be tolerated.
I think we’ve got to begin to address drug crimes in different ways. No longer can we accept open-air drug markets as simply being a part of big-city life and life in San Francisco. We need to have accountability for those who choose to continuously sell extremely dangerous and deadly drugs like fentanyl.
You consider yourself a progressive prosecutor, and you’ve criticized Boudin for what you’ve described as rigid adherence to progressive policies. How will you do things differently? What legal tools will you restore as D.A.?
For me, prosecutorial discretion is of paramount importance in a D.A.’s office. So I believe that while we should be very thoughtful about inequities in the system, and how we can be more fair, we need to restore prosecutorial discretion. And that’s across the board. We shouldn’t have any blanket policies that preclude us absolutely from accessing laws that we need in order to pursue justice or hold offenders accountable.
Does that mean a return of things like cash bail or, in certain situations, charging juveniles as adults? It sounds like you’re saying you want to have the discretion to use them as you wish.
Yes, I do want to have the discretion that if we believe that a case is appropriate for charging a certain way, that we do have the ability to do what we think is fair and is just. That doesn’t mean that we won’t be extremely thoughtful about when we exercise our discretion to go a certain way. But we have to make sure that we are being fair and that we have accountability, and that requires discretion in every single case.
Prosecutors left after Boudin took office, some citing his policies, others citing low morale. What will you do to improve morale?
The office has been divided for some time now, between pre-Chesa staff and post-Chesa staff and we can no longer function that way. We need to be one office, one team with one aligned mission, and that is to ensure that San Francisco is safe, and that we are being advocates for victims.
There’s a lot of disagreement about what’s driving crime in San Francisco. Some people think the pandemic was a greater driver than Boudin. Did Boudin’s policies, in your mind, actually lead to more crime?
At this point, I really am trying to move away from a lot of the discussion we had in the recall. Regardless of the reason, San Franciscans don’t feel safe; they feel like they are constantly at threat of being victimized in one way or another. We’ve got to work hard to serve as a deterrent to whatever is driving crime — be it the pandemic, be it lenient policies that criminals have become aware of.
We have to end this active environment where people feel like there’s a lack of consequences here and that this is a safe haven for crime. I certainly believe that that’s going to be critical to reducing crime in San Francisco.
But by no means did I ever blame all crime on Chesa Boudin. No district attorney can snap their fingers and do away with all crime. So we will have to work diligently against all the natural factors that always lead to crime existing and that is making sure that people with substance abuse problems get help and get into recovery.
Do you expect to see tangible results from these policies by November, when you’re up for election?
That’s a tough one because I do believe that people are going to have to be patient. They’re going to have to temper their expectations. Not only is the city in crisis, but the D.A.’s office itself is in crisis. We lost hundreds of years of prosecutorial experience over the past two years. There’s a lot of healing that needs to go on in that office. We have to restore it back to a place where lawyers are equipped to go in the courtroom and do their jobs effectively.
What we’re eating
Roasted salmon glazed with brown sugar and mustard.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Felicia Thompson:
“When I was a teenager in the 1960s and lived in Monrovia, one of my favorite places to visit was the Huntington Library in San Marino. It is a beautiful estate built by the railroad magnate Henry Huntington and later turned into a library of rare books and manuscripts; the beautiful main house was turned into a museum with notable Gainsborough paintings and others, plus beautiful gardens and fountains.
My best friend and I skipped out of high school one afternoon at the end of our senior year when we were pretty much done anyway and went there. We just loved the place so much for its culture and quiet. Then, it was free and not at all crowded.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What we’re watching
A new documentary focusing on a small group of natural wine producers in California.
And before you go, some good news
Dozens of dogs gathered at Huntington State Beach on a recent morning — not to frolic or play fetch, but to surf.
Sugar’s trainer, Ryan Rustan, was emotional after the win. He said it was in honor of his father, Rusty, who died this year.
“I’m 40 years old, and he always said, ‘Keep surfing with your dog, son, keep doing it, I love it,’” Rustan said. “Other people go, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ but my dad was so stoked.”