In his first “State of Justice” address Thursday, District Attorney Chesa Boudin attempted to assuage fears about the perception of rising crime in San Francisco while responding to those who seek to “roll back” his reform-minded policies.
A year after taking office, Boudin finds himself under fire for what’s seen as a revolving door of suspects shuffling in and out of County Jail, most notably in the case of Troy McAlister, a man who authorities say struck and killed two women with a stolen vehicle after prosecutors declined to charge him on numerous occasions.
But Boudin reminded the public in his address that overall crime dropped by nearly a quarter overall across San Francisco in 2020, despite increases in homicides, burglaries and other property crimes. Boudin said his office makes hundreds of charging decisions every day, most of which “will never be scrutinized” or “lead to viral tweets or salacious newspaper headlines.”
“But they are the bread and butter of what we do,” Boudin said in the address, streamed over Facebook live. “We are bound by duty, by ethics and by law to resist the calls to lock up every single person for as long as possible. Our movement will not allow tragedies to be exploited by fearmongers determined to roll back criminal justice reforms that promote equity, efficiency and safety.”
Boudin is facing outrage on social media and the beginnings of a recall effort over his handling of the McAlister case and the deaths of Hanako Abe, 27, and Elizabeth Platt, 60. He is even the subject of an unusual effort by an angel investor seeking to raise $75,000 to hire an “investigative journalist” to cover his office.
A former deputy public defender, Boudin was elected in November 2019 on a platform of reducing mass incarceration and holding police accountable in the face of heavy opposition from law enforcement groups. He served his first year in office amid a pandemic that has fundamentally changed life in San Francisco, closing storefronts and forcing residents to shelter at home.
His first year also came at a time when the nation paid closer attention to racial injustices and police misconduct following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Among the accomplishments Boudin listed in his address were reducing the jail population to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak and filing or securing charges against three officers for shooting or beating suspects.
“I remain steadfast in my commitment to dismantling racist practices and building a legal system that respects the poor, empowers the oppressed and treats no one as above the law,” Boudin said.
Looking forward, Boudin said his office is facing budget cuts of up to 10 percent that threaten to further impact already overburdened prosecutors, who have largely been unable to take cases to trial because of the pandemic. “Whenever the pandemic ends, we will have a historic backlog in our courts,” Boudin said.
The City is also in the midst of skyrocketing overdose deaths, primarily from the drug fentanyl. Without offering numbers, Boudin said his office prosecutes the majority of drug cases that result in arrests, but “prosecutions alone cannot fix this problem.”
“We need public health interventions,” he said.