By David M. Greenwald
San Francisco, CA – Appointed DA Brooke Jenkins found herself criticized from two directions at a forum. On the one hand, she was attacked by John Hamasaki for veering away from reform efforts and returning to a war on crime focus. On the other hand, she was accused by Joe Alioto Veronese and Maurice Chenier of not going far enough.
The League of Women Voters on Tuesday held a candidates forum for the San Francisco DA candidates at the USF School of Law. The forum was moderated by Justice Ming Chin.
Question: The San Francisco Police Commission recently found that only 8.1% of reported crimes in 2021 led to an arrest San Francisco PDs lowest rate in 10 years, and among the lowest law enforcement success rate in the country. How do you believe this lack of solved crimes will play into your job as district attorney?
Joe Alioto Veronese responded, “It has 100% to do with the lack of leadership and the low morale in this city. I was a police officer. I took many risks. I knew the look on people’s faces when I showed up and I gave them safety when they called 9 1 1 in the middle of the night. We are the number one job. The number one job of the district attorney in San Francisco is to keep people safe. We are failing our people in San Francisco. Our police commission needs to stop worrying about the things that they do and start doing things that actually keep people safe.”
John Hamasaki on the other hand said, “There was a Chornicle data piece a few months ago that showed that San Francisco is actually the most policed city in California. We have the most police here per capita, and we have the lowest crime rate, uh, clearance rate. Now why is that? Well, um, you know, I hate to say it, but four years on the police commission taught me there’s a problem with the culture.”
Maurice Chenier said, “I went to St. Ignatius College Prep and just about everybody who went there had a relative who was in the police department. I grew up respecting the police. Now you have to understand they have a very difficult job. When you hear nonsense like, let’s defund the police, well, that doesn’t work for anyone, but we defund the police. They hear that (and) they’re worried about going to jail because they shoot a suspect who’s shooting at them.”
Brooke Jenkins said, “We have to acknowledge that they’re understaffed. We have to acknowledge that they have been demoralized as people have just pointed out for a number of reasons including, like I said, the decriminalization of a number of crimes by the DA’s office and a refusal to prosecute those who have rightfully been arrested.”
She explained, “What I have done since taking office is to try to foster a working relationship with Chief Scott and his command staff as well as have my chief deputies meet with the command staff to try to form a new working relationship and a partnership what San Francisco needs, quite frankly, to move forward in the right direction.”
Next question: What will you do to prevent over policing on low income minority areas?
John Hamasaki said, “What I’ll do hopefully is win the election in November. The interim district attorney has restarted the war on drugs targeting minority communities disproportionately. It is also this administration has also, suggested they’re bringing back life in prison for somebody who uses drugs with another person if that person happens to die.”
He explained, “Every public health professional will tell you, every public health professional will tell you that this prosecutor will cost human lives. People will die because of the ignorance of the, the policies that have been repudiated across the country.”
He added, “So look, we can’t have these racially discriminatory policies. We cannot do the war on drugs where people who are, uh, using drugs together may be charged and may be prosecuted for murder. Then people do not call help for help. They do not call 9 1 1. This is proven, this is best practices.”
Maurice Chenier said, “There are a lot of inequities that went on before I was born and they are continuing to occur. What I will do is to have a uniform approach to enforcing the law. That means color doesn’t matter. Sexual preference doesn’t matter. Your racial background doesn’t matter. So to help historical communities, that have been discriminated against, what I will do is help you by not employing a system of discrimination. Now I’m going to target the most serious crimes.”
Brooke Jenkins said, “As a black woman raised by my black mother with a father who’s from El Salvador, I guarantee you I understand the inequities that are in this system. I know what it looks like to have family members come through this system and receive disproportionate sentences. I also know what it looks like to have family members who have had their loved one murdered and not have an opportunity at justice in this very city.”
She explained, “We have an obligation to make sure that we’re serving all communities. And what most communities of color will tell you is that they want police. They just want good policing. They don’t want to be beaten. They don’t want to have evidence planted on them, but they want to feel safe, and they want to make sure that when something happens in their communities, that they have somebody in this system who will do the right thing and fight for justice so that we’re not left to fight for it for ourselves.”
Joe Alioto Veronese said, “Equal justice under the law. The job of the chief prosecutor of this city is not to prosecute color, race, or any other identifying aspect. It’s to prosecute behavior. That’s what we do. But as I mentioned in one of the prior answers earlier, the criminal justice system is broken. There are tools of oppression that have been built into this system.”
The next question asked about the recently signed, AB 2195, which allows the prosecutors the discretion to offer an alternative public nuisance plea in specific drug related cases to allow citizens and non-citizens to avoid collateral consequences of drug convictions such as homelessness, unemployment, and mandatory deportation.
Brooke Jenkins responded, “We have an obligation as a DA’s office to ensure that we are taking, immigration status into account. That’s something that we’ve been doing that we will continue to do. We fully understand what that looks like in our line of work. We, of course, have to make sure that when we look at people who are continually picking up more serious crimes what we can do for them. We should always be making sure that we have, again, the form of accountability that’s appropriate in each and every situation and it looks different for different people.”
Joe Alioto Veronese said, “Collateral consequences are at the core of what criminal justice reform is here to fix. As I mentioned, the tools of oppression that are built into the system. Any tool, whether it’s from the governor or the legislature, or wherever that tool comes from, whether it comes from a healthcare provider, these are the tools that we need to be using in the criminal justice system to keep people from becoming or breaking laws, rather, because as I mentioned earlier, addiction is not illegal. Addiction is a public health crisis, right? We need to get these people help. We need to get people who are having mental health crisis as help. But when they’re standing in the middle of Lombard Street, out of their mind, throwing rocks at cars or trying to stick a trying to stick somebody with a needle, that’s when it becomes a crime.”
John Hamasaki said, “I support the bill signed by Governor Newsom, AB 2195. It builds on previous law in California that requires prosecutors to consider a person’s immigration status. What this does is give an immigration safe plea where otherwise they would be deportable. Now, we just went through this recall and the interim district attorney made a big argument for increasing people charged with fentanyl to make them mandatory deportable. That’s what this law was done to stop or to give another option to, because look, you can say we’re not going to deport them from San Francisco, but the minute they cross county lines or ice finds out about ’em, they’re still getting deported.”
Question asked how will you oversee police surveillance? Who will be responsible for making sure that the police follow the regulations as written and ensure that the data is deleted on the timeline set out in the regulations?
Brook Jenkins said, “We as prosecutors should always functions as checks and balances for the work fo the police department. If we have evidence that was obtained illegally or against some, some particular protocol or law, then of course that’s something we take into account in deciding whether or not to proceed. And it’s also something that the Defense Bar pays attention to in order to file a motion to suppress that piece of evidence.”
She said, “I did support the surveillance act because in our view when you’ve been a trial lawyer in the criminal system here in San Francisco, one thing is clear, our jurors want video evidence. San Francisco jurors are in fact, the toughest jurors to try a case in front of. They want to make sure they are convicting the right person. And so video evidence allows us to make sure that the juries have what they need in order to make the right decision.”
Joe Alioto Veronese: “We have a US constitution, we have a California constitution. We have all of these rules that protect us as individuals and our rights to privacy.” He explained, “But if you are out in the street and you are doing something in the view of the public and a private camera catches you, should a prosecutor use that as evidence? Absolutely.”
He continued, “But should a prosecutor obtain that evidence in inappropriately? Absolutely not. The rules of evidence apply your constitutional rights to privacy apply. So if it requires a warrant, go get a warrant. Go do a little legwork as a police officer, a DA investigator, or a DA, go get a warrant.”
John Hamasaki said, “I worked on this surveillance ordinance on the police commission. There already was an ordinance in place that allowed police live access to surveillance for serious and violent cases. All this does is allow it for low level cases. So basically it’s creating a system of mass surveillance in San Francisco.”
He pointed out, “SFPD unfortunately didn’t follow the existing law and ended up getting sued by the ACLU for live monitoring protests. And so the idea that you can go out as a citizen and protest against your government in a controversial issue, whatever your particular positions are, and the government is going to surveil you to watch you, to follow you, to see where you go to watch what you do. That to me stands in the face of freedom that I believe America stands for. And so I oppose this ordinance.”
Maurice Chenier said, “I’m a big fan of electronic surveillance but the right way… We need to go through the hoops. We need to go to the court and ask to get the right to conduct surveillance.” He said, “surveillance, when you’re out in the public, you’re basically in the public domain. So post crime surveillance to me is not protected. For example, if you commit the crime, you murder somebody, then later you’re, you’re arrested and you say, Oh, no, you shouldn’t have got that because you didn’t go through the hoops to get the, or the Fourth Amendment hoops. That shouldn’t be a concern.”