After a string of mob retail thefts across the Bay Area, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin is in a difficult position, simultaneously seeking to reassure a weary public while continuing the criminal justice reform policies that he campaigned on.
The stakes are high for Boudin, who is facing a recall election in June amid growing scrutiny from the national media.
The campaign to recall Boudin wasted no time in pinning the Friday night thefts at Louis Vuitton and other Union Square boutiques on the district attorney’s policies. In a statement, campaign director Andrea Shorter wrote that Boudin has “created an environment where these crimes are allowed to happen without consequence or prosecution.”
Boudin vigorously contested this characterization in an interview with The Examiner on Tuesday, highlighting the fact that mob retail thefts took place around the Bay Area, as well as in other locations across the country, over the weekend. This year, his office has been charging felony property crime cases at higher rates than the DA in Alameda County, or his predecessor in 2018 and 2019, he said.
He also pointed to the role of the police and judges in ensuring public safety, saying his office can only charge cases when arrests are made. “When the police bring us arrests with good solid evidence and investigations, we’re going to file charges consistent with the facts and the law.”
In her statement, Shorter acknowledged similar “organized retail thefts occurred in other cities,” but emphasized that other property crimes like car break-ins and home burglaries “are occurring at exceptionally higher rates in San Francisco.” These crimes, Shorter said, are a consequence of what she described as Boudin’s failure “to hold repeat offenders accountable.”
Boudin counters that “when police bring us evidence of felony property crimes, we have filed felony property crimes.” His decision to bring felony charges against nine suspects apprehended in the thefts in Union Square and other locations around The City Friday night “is not a change at all” from his prior policies, he said. “It’s simply that the media is paying more attention to what we’re doing now.” Last week, his office filed eight felony counts of grand theft against a serial shoplifter at the Stonestown Target.
Boudin said he is making other efforts to combat retail theft, including regular meetings with neighborhood merchant associations and coordinating with law enforcement agencies across the region. On Tuesday, he met with DAs from every Bay Area county about “ramping up enforcement in this area as we go into the holiday season.”
There are also signs Boudin is adopting a more conciliatory tone towards his critics. “Regardless of what the statistics show,” he said in a CNN appearance Monday, “if people don’t feel safe, if they can’t go about their business and live their lives in safety and comfort, then we have work to do.”
The events of the past week don’t bode well for Boudin, according to political consultant Nicole Derse, who is not working on either side of the recall campaign. “The level of frustration among San Franciscans is increasing and starting to come to a head,” she said. Even if Boudin is now adopting a tougher stance, “a lot of voters are going to see it as too little too late.”
Derse now thinks Boudin is “more likely than not” to be recalled.
Boudin is also facing critics from his left. Aditi Joshi of the group Defund SFPD was frustrated Boudin praised SFPD’s response to the thefts on Friday, when the day prior, San Francisco police shot and killed a man named Ajmal Amani, who was reportedly wielding a knife.
“We don’t need more cops protecting Louis Vuitton stores,” Joshi said. “No felony charges will be able to change the fact that folks aren’t able to meet their basic needs”
For his part, Boudin said he doesn’t feel like his ongoing efforts to hold police accountable for misconduct and his efforts to stop retail theft are in conflict. “The more the public trusts the police, the more we have a police force that does its job and de-escalates,” he said, “the safer we’ll all be.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of suspects charged in the Union Square thefts. Five people were charged in connection to the thefts in Union Square, and four were charged in connection to other thefts around The City the same night.