The San Francisco Chronicle recently asked if residents should “tolerate a high level of burglaries as a downside of city living, and focus on barricading their homes?” Or, if that’s not satisfactory, “should people who are repeatedly accused of stealing be targeted with rehabilitation services, or incarcerated so they can’t commit more crimes?”
The correct answer seems obvious. But this is Chesa Boudin’s San Francisco. The district attorney, elected by San Francisco voters, and a likely recall survivor, has a funny way of prosecuting crime. He clearly sees some offenses as behavior that has to be tolerated no matter what its level.
The day before the Chronicle asked readers how residents should respond to the crime, it published “never-before-seen data on how Chesa Boudin is prosecuting cases.” The results have some surprises.
Change in S.F. District Attorney Charging Rates for Selected Arrest Types
Source: SF District Attorney’s Office data, as published in San Francisco Chronicle
Boudin’s charging rates for willful homicide, rape, and narcotics offenses in 2020 and 2021, the years he’s been in office, are higher than those in 2018 and 2019, the years that immediately preceded his term. He can’t be criticized for being soft on those crimes, at least relative to his predecessor, George Gascon, who is now the Los Angeles district attorney and a recall target, as well.
But Boudin’s charging rates for burglary, theft, petty theft, and assault are lower, in some cases significantly so. Not at all shocking, since candidate Boudin said he was not going to prosecute quality-of-life crimes, such as “public camping, offering or soliciting sex, public urination, blocking a sidewalk, etc.”
Burglary, theft, petty theft, and assault are a little more than quality-of-life crimes, though. Yet it seems they’re being treated as if they are. The charging rate for petty theft fell to 35% from 58%, theft from 62% to 46%. Before Boudin was district attorney, burglaries were charged at a 75% rate. Now it’s 67%.
And in a city where assaults are on the rise, and the beatings of Asians and Asian Americans have become common news items, the charging rate for assaults has fallen 8 percentage points, to a mere 37%.
There are of course many individual stories we don’t know. Prosecutors routinely decline to charge suspects when a conviction seems unlikely due to weak evidence. Yet when Boudin’s campaign promises are seen in the light of his conviction rates, it’s hard not to conclude that he believes San Franciscans should hunker down in bunkers that once were their homes, and retailers can either continue to put up with daylight raids or close their stores.
Maybe the only answer for now is private security, an option that at least one neighborhood has already taken. Private security isn’t free, though. It’s an added expense in a city where the housing and cost of living are already painfully high. But San Francisco being an urban core of deep blue, some residents will pass off the steep costs as the premium they have to pay to be able to say they have a progressive George Soros prosecutor whose chief interest isn’t prosecuting but furthering radical politics.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.