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Politics & Policy

DA Chesa Boudin: five takeaways from a fiery live interview

In a live interview Thursday with The Standard, District Attorney Chesa Boudin aggressively pushed back when asked to address concerns about the Tenderloin, his management of the office and the perception that his tenure has emboldened criminals. Below are five takeaways from Editor in Chief Jonathan Weber's interview with the progressive prosecutor, who is facing a recall election in June.

Who is behind the recall?
Boudin spent much of his time in the interview criticizing questions as talking points fueled by a Republican-bankrolled agenda rather than based in fact. Boudin said he has substantial support in the Chinese American community and took special offense to recent political attack ads that portrayed him as a communist. He noted that much of the recall election’s funding came from Bay Area hedge fund manager William Oberndorf.

“The folks behind this recall are racist,” Boudin said. “They're anti-immigrant, they're anti-Chinese. And it is high time that people like William Oberndorf, who are bankrolling the recall, come out and put their mouth where their money is. I've challenged him to a debate. I want San Franciscans to hear what his vision for public safety is.”

On diversion versus jail
One of the biggest differences between Boudin and his predecessors has been his use of pre-trial diversion as an alternative to seeking a conviction. Boudin acknowledged that diversion has “expanded significantly” during his tenure but explained that the difference is in part attributable to new changes in state law that make more misdemeanors eligible for diversion. Boudin said the traditional approach of seeking a conviction and sentence wasn’t working.

“We know that about two-thirds of people sent to state prison and released will be reincarcerated within a couple of years,” Boudin said. “In other words, the traditional approach doesn't do a great job at preventing future crime.”

On turnover in his office
Boudin got defensive when asked whether his office was being mismanaged. Late last year, a San Francisco Superior Court judge blasted the District Attorney’s Office in open court for being disorganized and suffering from “constant turnover.” But Boudin said this same judge praised his office in court weeks later, adding that turnover in his office wasn’t abnormal compared to other agencies—or even a bad thing.

“I was elected on a mandate for change,” Boudin said. “How were we going to do that if we only had people who spent their entire career in the same office?”

More cops in the Tenderloin?
The state of the Tenderloin has in many ways shaped the narrative around the Boudin recall. Police say they need more officers to keep up with the demand for an increased presence in the area. When asked if he believes the department needs more cops, Boudin said his office depends on the department to make arrests but wouldn’t commit to calling for more police. He added that he had never weighed in on the movement to defund the police.

“I don't know what the solution is,” Boudin said. “I want to hold people accountable when they commit crimes. That's my job. I want to do it in a way that prevents future crime, that supports crime victims, gives them healing and empowerment. And we cannot hold people accountable until and unless police make an arrest.”

Lessons DA Boudin has learned 
Near the end of the 50-minute conversation, Boudin reflected on some of the key lessons he has learned since taking office and how the pandemic forced him to confront issues in the criminal justice system:

            Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com
            Michael Barba can be reached at mbarba@sfstandard.com