New San Francisco DA Vows to Fight the City’s ‘Lawlessness’

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(Bloomberg) -- San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has a message about the “lawlessness” she says she inherited in her city: “All crime in San Francisco is illegal again.”

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Changing the perception that San Francisco has lost its allure after the pandemic to help keep the city’s economic machine running is “a significant factor” that plays into her efforts, Jenkins said in an exclusive interview at Bloomberg News in San Francisco Thursday.

Jenkins, 41, landed in the city’s top prosecutor job by actively helping to unseat her predecessor and former boss, Chesa Boudin, who was recalled by voters in June amid criticism he was too soft on crime. Appointed to her post in July by Mayor London Breed, Jenkins went on to win election to the remainder of Boudin’s term last month -- and she will face voters again next year.

With its quality of life perennially plagued by open-air drug markets, brazen retail theft and thousands of people who live on the streets, many of them mentally ill, San Francisco has found itself in the spotlight lately over an intrusion into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home by a man who struck her husband in the head with a hammer and the near death of an infant who reportedly ingested fentanyl in a city park.

Pledging to repair what she described as a dysfunctional relationship between her office and the city police department, Jenkins said the city can’t afford for business owners to shut their stores and families to flee to the suburbs because they fear for their safety, or for businesses and tourists to avoid the city altogether.

“A very strong message not only to San Francisco, but the world is that we will make it safer,” she said.

While city police data shows burglaries and homicides have decreased this year compared to the same period last year, high-profile smash and grab incidents, car thefts and hate-driven attacks on Asian Americans have rattled residents and deterred visitors.

Read More: San Francisco Mayor Names Boudin Recall Supporter as New DA

Jenkins said that based on her conversations over months with residents and business owners alike, crime statistics aren’t accurate.

“The amount of people who are not reporting crime is astounding,” she said.

To support the city’s retail sector she’s been meeting with businesses like Walgreens and trade group leaders who want to know what can be done to reduce crime.

She explains that law enforcement can’t help if business owners fail to report crimes -- and if employees aren’t made available to testify as witnesses when cases are prosecuted.

Jenkins said she’s not the antithesis to Boudin, a progressive whose reforms proved unpopular, such as offering plea deals to repeat drug dealers, the elimination of cash bail and a reticence to charge juveniles as adults.

Saying that “accountability looks different for different people,” she called for an individualistic approach to prosecution that reserves incarceration for dangerous and hardened criminals, but which allows flexibility to send lower-level offenders to drug-treatment programs.

The goal is to offer programs that target the “root cause” of illegal behavior, she said.

Jenkins, who is biracial, the daughter of a Black mother and a father from El Salvador, says she understands the concerns of residents who fear police. “As a Black woman growing up in America, police never made me feel more safe or more comfortable,” she said. “I really think we’ve shifted into a zone where people not only accept that policing is a part of society, but are imploring that we have a greater police presence so that they feel safer.”

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