Suzy Loftus, center, smiles as she fills out paperwork to run for San Francisco District Attorney while surrounded by her three daughters, Mayor London Breed, Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen and Supervisors Vallie Brown and Katy Tang at the Department of Elections at City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Former police commissioner enters DA race with focus on car break-ins

Former Police Commission President Suzy Loftus jumped into the race to become San Francisco’s next top prosecutor on Tuesday, criticizing District Attorney George Gascon for his handling of the rise in car break-ins.

Loftus, who worked as a prosecutor under former District Attorney Kamala Harris, declared her intent to run against Gascon in November 2019 with the endorsements of moderate politicians including Mayor London Breed and Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen.

Though the election is still more than a year away, the announcement sets up a competitive race between two respected criminal justice leaders. Loftus, a top attorney for Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, is known for spearheading police reform after the 2015 shooting of Mario Woods.

“She’s the woman that I turned to when I had any questions, any doubts about any of the reforms that we brought about,” Cohen told the crowd outside the Department of Elections.

Gascon, who has been district attorney since then-mayor Gavin Newsom appointed him in 2011, has the support of Newsom and billionaire donor George Soros. Gascon is a progressive district attorney who has sought to root out police bias, decriminalize cannabis and reform the bail system in California.

As district attorney, Loftus said she would have neighborhood prosecutors work with the community to focus on identifying the prolific auto burglars responsible for a large amount of the crimes.

“The leadership has been lacking,” Loftus told reporters. “Car break-ins have tripled in the last eight years. The recent response of making it a priority and making it clear to the bench that there should be consequences is good, but we got here because there wasn’t enough attention paid to it earlier.”

“It’s too little too late,” she said.

San Francisco had more than 30,000 car break-ins last year.

Gascon declined to comment, but his supporters note that the district attorney can only charge auto burglars who have been arrested.

In January, Gascon revealed that police had made just 13 arrests out of the 81,000 online reports of auto burglaries made to the SFPD.

Car break-ins are down 18 percent so far this year, and his office has prosecuted 85 percent of the cases referred to it by police.

Gascon has also been blamed for the rise in car break-ins because he championed Proposition 47, a 2014 ballot measure that reduced certain property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors to reduce prison overcrowding.

But the measure did not reduce the penalty for the crime of auto burglary.

Loftus said she supported the measure at the time but criticized the “local implementation” of the measure. Loftus said she would make better use of alternatives to incarceration like stay away orders.

“There’s this idea that if something is not a felony, then we don’t pursue it,” Loftus said. “I would do that very differently.”

Gascon’s supporters criticize Loftus for taking on property crime as an election issue when she did not stress it as an issue on the Police Commission.

Her tenure on the commission is also marked by two scandals where police officers sent racist and homophobic text messages to one another. She was not only in charge of officer discipline at the time but overall management of the department.

“I’m incredibly proud of my record on the Police Commission,” Loftus said.

In 2016, Loftus helped strengthen the use-of-force policy for police for the first time in years.

Joe Alioto Veronese, a former Police Commission member, and Deputy Attorney General Leif Dautch are also contenders in the race.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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