In a recent article – “We fact checked the most common claims about San Francisco crime”, the San Francisco Chronicle outrageously attempted to defend the state of crime in San Francisco as well as the recall facing District Attorney Chesa Boudin. The Chronicle may feel that while crime is up, it isn’t as bad as it used to be or, it’s no worse than other places. However, that is not what the facts show or how San Francisco’s crime victims feel.
Criminal justice is, or at least should be, about crime victims.
Based on statistics provided by the University of Pennsylvania, the Chronicle reports an increase in homicides of 37.36%, and an increase in burglaries of 47.02 % in San Francisco. Those nation leading statistics should inform even the most strident critic of the police and prosecutions that it might be time to re-examine the criminal justice reforms instituted in the last 10 years.
Rather than an opportunity for reflection though, the Chronicle attempts to tell San Franciscans that their homicide rate is no worse than Los Angeles or Oakland, and other forms of victimization are consistent with any other big city in America.
That’s akin to telling a domestic violence victim their increased beatings are no worse than their neighbors. It’s an offensive line of logic that dismisses the impact of crime on its victims as a normal fact of life rather than the brutal and uncaring failure of humanity it is.
The impact of homicide on its victim is manifest and reaches far beyond their death. The emotional toll on loved ones is devasting – so too is the economic one as families often have to cope with the loss of their primary source of income. Think high rents are economically hard on poor families? Try murder. Mr. Boudin would, of course, argue that he would prosecute any murderer he believed was guilty all the while his policy reforms facilitate that very act.
The so called “Safe Neighborhoods and School Act” Proposition 47 (2014) was supposed to make us safer and yet there are hundreds of additional murder victims in California than there would have been had murders remained at their pre-Prop 47 levels. Mr. Boudin supported Prop 47 and resists changes to the law.
Many people unfamiliar with the psychology of victimization dismiss burglary as a “victimless” crime. Yet studies show that residential burglary is second only to sexual assault in its impact on its victims. Think about it. The one place on earth where someone should feel most secure is violated. To cope locks are changed, alarms and camera systems installed, and bars placed over windows. Sounds like a form of incarceration doesn’t it? In a way it is as the victim now lives in an emotional and literal prison. According to one study 1 out of 8 burglary victims never emotionally recover.
Others, who can afford to, will move away rather than stay in their crime scene home. Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming begin to look better and better and not just because of low taxes.
In California since the passage of AB 109 (Prison Realignment) and the attendant rapid discharge of tens of thousands of prison inmates between 2011 and 2020, there have been 414 additional murders and a tragic 39,853 additional rapes than if those incidents had remained static at 2011 levels. And yes, Mr. Boudin supported AB 109.
Through legislative act and office policy Mr. Boudin and his allies have made it harder to prosecute repeat violent offenses, harder to prosecute gang members, harder to impose longer (aggravated) sentences, and impossible to prosecute violent, even homicidal, juveniles as adults. Without that deterrent the exploitation of juveniles by criminal street gangs has resumed.
Progressives and prisoner advocates sold these reforms to voters as “smart on crime”. In the heavily Democratic California Legislature there was little debate. In the one-party San Francisco Board of Supervisors there was none – except perhaps to further allow criminal and anti-social conduct where State reforms did not go far enough. For example, so called “safe injection zones” are illegal under California law. San Francisco has many de facto such zones. Mr. Boudins says his office has incarcerated drug dealers – that’s true if you count the one day of incarceration when they were arrested as credit for time served.
Since March 2019 more San Franciscans have been killed by drugs and crime than Covid. It’s doubtful any other city in America can post such an awful statistic. In the face of this human tragedy the response of Mr. Boudin and his supporters is completely contradictory. Their strategy of enforce less, prosecute less, and incarcerate less makes it appear crime is going down – yet the data shows otherwise – victimization far exceeds reported crimes. Continuation of these “reforms” will only add to more lives ruined as murdered and overdosed bodies fill the morgue.
Mr. Boudin is the anchor of a failed 4×100 relay that started with the reforms began by former District Attorney Mr. Terence Hallinan who passed the baton to Ms. Kamala Harris, then to Mr. George Gascon. Voters and lawmakers should consider this.
There is room for both accountability and compassion in the criminal justice system and policy should be developed through a more rigorous process that considers the rights of victims on an equal basis as the rights of the accused.
Steve Smith is a senior fellow with the Center for Urban Renewal at the Pacific Research Institute.