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Politics & Policy

Brooke Jenkins sworn in as DA, vows to ‘restore’ order to SF’s streets by cracking down on crime

Brooke Jenkins is sworn-in as District Attorney at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, July 8, 2022. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Brooke Jenkins was officially sworn in as San Francisco’s top cop, pledging to “restore” order to the streets by cracking down on drug dealing, holding criminals accountable and putting victims first. 

Jenkins, who was introduced by Mayor London Breed, took the oath of office Friday afternoon in a ceremony at City Hall.

The new chief prosecutor was greeted with raucous applause by a who’s-who of local politics, including Breed’s allies on the Board of Supervisors, law enforcement leaders and former Mayor Willie Brown. She was sworn in by Samuel Feng, the presiding judge of San Francisco Superior Court.

In her first speech, Jenkins said that she would enforce drug crime laws beginning on day one. She said she would restore the sense of safety that Asian residents have lost. She pledged to address the “serious crime problems” in San Francisco, saying that drug dealing cannot be treated as a victimless crime and that property crime can no longer be viewed as a part of daily life.

“Reform does not have to come at the expense of public safety and public safety does not have to come at the expense of reform,” Jenkins said. “As your district attorney, I vow to balance both.”

Jenkins, 40, worked as an assistant district attorney for seven years before becoming a leader in the movement to oust District Attorney Chesa Boudin after leaving his office last fall. While she initially supported the progressive top prosecutor and his platform, Jenkins ultimately turned on Boudin.

The tipping point came in a dispute over whether the office should try to imprison a mentally ill man who killed his mother. The defendant was declared legally insane—a rarity in the criminal justice system—and experts, as well as his own family, advised sending him to a mental health facility. Jenkins, who wanted to send the defendant to prison for life, resigned shortly after the District Attorney’s Office decided against a retrial on the declaration-of-insanity portion of the case.

Both Jenkins and Boudin have talked about striking a balance between reforming the criminal justice system and holding criminals accountable. She has adopted the “progressive prosecutor” title to the disdain of her critics, who view her as a more traditional DA. And if Boudin put transformational change first, Jenkins has signaled she’ll do the opposite by adopting a more tough-on-crime approach.

However, Breed made a point of saying Jenkins is not going to abandon justice reform. “There is a lot of rhetoric out there about criminal justice reform and how we are going to be set back,” Breed said during the ceremony Friday, “but let me tell you, that is not going to happen.”

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins (center) attends her swearing-in ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, July 8, 2022 with her husband, children, and Mayor London Breed. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Breed acknowledged that she chose Jenkins out of a large pool of candidates that included Supervisor Catherine Stefani and Nancy Tung, a former San Francisco prosecutor. Breed thanked Stefani and Tung, who showed up for the ceremony. And in a show of solidarity, Tung and Jenkins hugged.

“This was a very hard decision,” Breed said. “I didn’t take this decision lightly,” she later added.

The mayor said she was impressed by Jenkins’ understanding of criminal justice issues and the balance she promised to bring to the table. Breed said that Jenkins has compassion for victims but also wants to ensure consequences for defendants who cross a line. 

“There is not one person that is going to fix this,” Breed said, “but there is a strong DA who will take over and do everything that she can to ensure safety, accountability and justice.”

Though Jenkins rose to prominence as the spokesperson for the campaign to oust Boudin, Breed called for putting “the political rhetoric behind us.”

“Yes we want police accountability,” Breed continued, “but we also want a district attorney that can work with the police department and work with the sheriff’s department and work with the Board of Supervisors and work with the mayor.” 

In both an earlier address to the public Thursday after Breed announced her appointment, and again during her swearing-in on Friday, Jenkins delivered a law-and-order speech that focused heavily on ending drug dealing that is highly visible in parts of downtown.

How she will accomplish those goals in practical terms remains to be seen.