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:
- “I have learned that we have been far too patient in waiting for our courts to reopen and that victims can no longer tolerate the delays in their cases, and that people accused of crimes also have a right to speedy trial, and that the Court of Appeals are going to start dismissing cases if our courts don’t move more quickly to trial cases.”
- “I’ve learned that we have a massive challenge when it comes to explaining and communicating the challenges and the way that the criminal justice system works.”
- “I’ve learned that there are thousands of policies and practices that pre-date my administration that need to be reviewed and interrogated and questioned about whether or not they’re good or whether or not they can be improved upon. And that’s not something that can happen overnight.”
- “I’ve learned that morale in an era when you can’t do happy hours or office luncheons is a real challenge to try and manage over Zoom. And that being a frontline prosecutor, when you’ve got to wear a mask to court every day is really difficult work. I have tremendous respect for the staff in our office, the hard work that they do, the challenges that they face.”
- “And I’ve learned that we’ve got to do a better job making sure San Franciscans feel safe in our communities.”