Opposition to SF DA Chesa Boudin’s Progressive Policy Beginning to Get Louder

By Ramneet Singh and Lauren Smith

SAN FRANCISCO – Throughout his first year as District Attorney of San Francisco, Chesa Boudin has advocated and implemented a progressive policy platform to target the causes of crime amid challenges from police unions.

That’s what Boudin was elected to do, but the voices of opposition are growing louder.

According to Ballotpedia, Boudin won the third round of a ranked-choice voting election on Nov. 5, 2019. Boudin garnered 50.8 percent of the vote compared to Suzy Loftus’ 49.2 percent. On Jan. 8, 2020, Chesa Boudin began his four-year term.

Voters apparently knew what they were getting. On the campaign trail, Boudin listed his major priorities in Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connect survey.

Firstly, he aimed to “…break the cycle of recidivism and treat the causes of crime at the roots.” Next, he stressed the impartiality of law, stating that “we must end the rampant racism that plague every step of the process today.” His last priority involved “…promoting restorative justice opportunities as often as possible” for victims.

Boudin followed these three core ideas with a list of policies and initiatives that included: the institution of a Wrongful Conviction unit, employment of a diverse staff, promotion of transparency through online resources, reduction of recidivism rates, and connection with public health officials to adequately address cases.

On Feb. 22, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office issued a policy directive that severely limited sentence enhancements. Specifically, the policy directive targeted “prior-strike status enhancements,” “‘nickel-prior’ status enhancements,” and “gang enhancements.”

However, the directive outlines exceptions, where “present unusual risks of harm to public safety or crime victims.” The policy directive included a study by the Stanford Computational Policy Lab that studied the effect of status enhancements from 2005 to 2017.

With the sharp increase in the California prison and jail population, the study stated that “the use of sentencing enhancements — mostly Prop. 8 priors and Three Strikes enhancements — accounted for half of the time served for enhancements.” The study specified that “45 percent of people serving life sentences in CDCR under the Three Strikes law are Black.”

The policy directive concluded with an emphasis on alternatives to crime reduction. As an alternative, the policy directive stated “…by expanding access to (non-criminal justice-based) drug treatment, the expansion of Medicaid yielded billions in reduced crime in states that participated in the expansion.”

Related to the impartiality of law, Boudin sought to hold law enforcement accountable for the misuse of their power. On June 15, the San Francisco District Office issued a policy directive that prevented “…the charging and prosecution of cases relying upon the word of officers who have previously been found to have committed serious misconduct.”

In a statement, Boudin argued “this directive ensures that members of the public are not wrongly or unfairly accused by officers whom we know have displayed the kind of misconduct that permanently damages their credibility or the trust we place in them.” This directive does not apply to instances where evidence may be corroborate, he added.

In December 2019, two SF police officers shot Jamaica Hampton after he allegedly attacked them. Since the shooting, Boudin has withdrawn the charges against Hampton, and he began investigating the officers involved in the shooting.

Tony Montoya, the San Francisco Police Officers Association president, disagreed with Boudin’s actions and instead asked for the U.S. Attorney William Barr to intervene in the case.

Montoya further stated that the officers were doing their job, “They responded to a distraught resident, who said a person had just broken down their front door. While they were in the area, they encountered Mr. Hampton. They were simply going to go talk to him to see if he was involved, and he’s the one who immediately ambushed the officer in the passenger side of the vehicle that led to the subsequent officer-involved shooting.”

Boudin has expressed his commitment to helping minority communities that are disproportionately impacted at the hands of law enforcement. In an effort to combat racial profiling, the San Francisco DA’s Office issued a policy directive that “…has a presumption against filing possession of contraband crimes when the search stemmed from an infraction-related stop, and no other independent probable cause…”

And, in an essay in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Boudin considered the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on victims as well as the jail and prison population.

Regarding victim support, the essay stated that the “…SFDA secured a range of housing options and made them available at no cost to domestic violence victims and their dependents.”

Furthermore, the essay expressed “that money bail continues to be a discriminatory institution which undermines public safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system.”

However, the San Francisco Superior Court chose not to continue the zero bail policy, which reduced penalties for low-level defenders and reduced the California jail population.

Given the nature of COVID-19, Boudin sought to safely decrease the jail population to mitigate potential spread, “releasing people who were at high medical risk and posed low public safety risk…”.

In terms of results, “the jail population fell to a low of 696 on April 30, 2020, and has stabilized in the mid-700s since then—nearly a forty percent decrease over the January high.” With a reduction of criminal activity, “From March 17, 2020, when San Francisco’s shelter in place order took effect, through November 8, 2020, overall reported crime fell 32.9 percent.”

In addition to police dissatisfaction, there appears to be dissatisfaction with how DA Boudin is handling the Tenderloin district.

One article written by Randy Shaw, Executive Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, claims that Boudin “has not uttered a word of public sympathy or concern for the poor and working class residents he is supposed to protect.”

Shaw further writes that Boudin is a DA “with a ‘public defender’s mentality’” and is committed to reducing incarceration rather than putting people in jail for dealing drugs.

Others are criticizing Boudin’s low prosecution rate, and a Marina Times article claims that “Boudin’s lack of prosecutions is fueling a burglary epidemic.”

The article further suggests Boudin kicked his start of term off  “with a 23 percent leap in robberies and upticks in burglaries and car break-ins [and] as of September 1st, burglaries exploded up 57.6 percent over the same period last year.”

According to this article, SFPD investigators reported that the DA’s office is calling “victims and pressuring them to forgo prosecution in favor of ‘restorative justice.’”

Despite progressive actions, Chesa Boudin has, and most likely will, continue to battle with the SFPD and some members of the public on his seeming favorability for lowering incarceration rates rather than increasing his prosecution rate.

Ramneet Singh is a third-year student at the University of California, Davis. He is a Political Science major and is pursuing a History minor. He is from Livingston, California.

Lauren Smith is a fourth year student at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and Psychology. She is from San Diego, California.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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  1. Keith Olsen

    Opposition to Boudin is getting even louder:

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Chesa Boudin took office as district attorney in San Francisco a year ago, part of a politically progressive wave of prosecutors committed to seeking restorative justice over mass incarceration.
    But now the former deputy public defender and son of one-time Weathermen radicals is under fire for the deaths of two pedestrians on New Year’s Eve who were run down in an intersection by a 45-year-old parolee, fueling criticism in a city plagued by rampant drug dealing and a surge in break-ins. Distraught and fed-up residents have taken to social media to highlight burglaries and attempted home invasions in their communities.
    Police say Troy McAlister was intoxicated when he ran a red light in a stolen car, killing Elizabeth Platt, 60, and Hanako Abe, 27. The San Francisco police officers union says a plea agreement for a robbery set McAlister free on parole in April, and that Boudin’s office failed to prosecute McAlister’s multiple arrests in the aftermath, including one Dec. 20 for alleged car theft.


          1. David Greenwald

            Nevermind that the article was assigned on Monday and in my box by the time you commented.

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