Yesterday, New York Times Magazine published an interview with San Francisco’s progressive DA Chesa Boudin. Not surprisingly, Boudin is firmly convinced that none of the problems in San Francisco are his fault. He literally says as much in his first answer to a question.
Your critics make the argument that your policies, and by extension progressive prosecutors, create a perception of permissiveness that emboldens criminals. What’s your response?
I was clear as a candidate, and our efforts have followed through, that we would focus resources on crimes that cause the most harm: violent crimes, murder, sexual assault. Those are where our charging and conviction rates have gone up. If you are someone who believes in a tough-on-crime deterrence model of the justice system or public safety, then that model must begin with the police making arrests in a high percentage of cases. With theft in San Francisco, people believe they can get away with it because only 2 percent of reported thefts result in arrest. We can hang people in the town square, but the most effective thing at deterring crime is certainty of arrest. But the police make arrests in less than 3 percent of reported auto burglaries. Not blaming the police: These are crimes that are hard to make an arrest in. Because of that, people don’t fear consequences. It has nothing to do with my policies.
When the interviewer points out that San Francisco seems to have a particular problem with retail theft and property crime, Boudin claims that’s happening everywhere and, again, has nothing to do with him:
I went to New York in November to visit my dad when he got out of prison, and we went to Duane Reade. We wanted to get him basic things: deodorant, a hairbrush, a toothbrush. We went in, and even deodorant, which was like five or six dollars a bar, was behind plexiglass. People on social media would have you think that it’s only in San Francisco where people are so desperate that they’re going to go into Duane Reade or Walgreens and shoplift. The reality is that’s a feature of modern American urban life, in large part because of the horrific wealth inequalities, the poverty, the lack of access to housing, the internet marketplaces where people can resell stolen products. Those trends are national and have nothing to do with me or my policies.
Finally, the interviewer pushes back on Boudin a little bit and again Boudin’s answer basically comes down to it’s not my fault, blame the police.
I brought up property theft in San Francisco and you made a comparison with Manhattan. But Target is limiting its hours in your city, and Walgreens is closing stores explicitly because of too much theft. There’s also those viral videos of flash-mob robberies —
Sorry, David, you’re saying you didn’t see videos of flash-mob burglaries in other cities?
I haven’t, no.
Chicago. Walnut Creek. The notion that this is a San Francisco problem is demonstrably false.
Then that’s my mistake. But property theft in San Francisco is a problem. What needs to be happening differently to address it?
The major change that has happened when it comes to retail theft in particular is that stores like Walgreens have decided it’s not in their interest to have their security detain shoplifters. The reason is that the police almost never make it to the stores in response to a shoplifting call in time to effectuate an arrest. They rely on store security to hold people long enough for the police to arrive. If Walgreens or Target or any other store decides that it’s too risky, in terms of people getting injured or racial-profiling lawsuits or disturbing other customers — if those costs outweigh the benefit of having their staff make arrests, how do they expect me to prosecute? If the police can’t make arrests, to then say it’s the district attorney’s fault simply doesn’t add up.
This would be absurd coming from anybody but it’s especially absurd coming from the DA. Other big cities are seeing similar crime in some cases but San Francisco is definitely on the cutting edge of this trend.
I posted video of rampant shoplifting in San Francisco back in October of 2020. Drug stores have continued to close outlets in the city since then because of these brazen thefts. Other stores have reduced hours or closed early to deal with theft. And what is Boudin’s office doing in response? About three weeks ago the San Francisco Chronicle published data showing how Boudin’s office is handling theft cases.
As you can see, charging rates for theft have been down sharply. And even for the reduced number of cases where his office brings charges, convictions are down:
As always, Boudin had someone else to blame:
“We had clear instructions from courts to delay and defer anything we could delay and defer, [and] from the medical director to drastically reduce the (jail) population,” he said. “In the context of those really difficult decisions, we did make intentional decisions to delay or defer charging low-level nonviolent cases.”
He claimed charging rates were back up as courts started reopening. And they were a little bit, though they are still well below where they were prior to his taking office.
Of course Boudin’s interviewer doesn’t bring up any of these specifics, which allows Boudin to simply blame everything on the police and leave it at that. But as you can see, his office hasn’t been charging the cases police did bring him as aggressively as his predecessor (fellow progressive DA George Gascon).
So there’s a pretty clear answer to why police aren’t rushing out to arrest shoplifters in these cases. It’s probably because they a) don’t have the manpower for it and b) know it’s a given that anyone they arrest will be released within hours and probably only charged about 1/3 of the time. Why waste their time on cases they know the DA won’t prosecute?
I can’t leave this article without highlighting a few responses from readers who weren’t impressed with Boudin’s blame-shifting.
Let me see if I have this right. According to Boudin, Walgreens is closing stores because the police are doing a poor job with arrests. If only the police would arrest more shoplifters, his office could prosecute….
Except that his office decided to not prosecute any property crime less than $950. What’s the point of the detaining someone, either by private security or public policing, if the prosecutor’s has already said they won’t prosecute?
That outright lie is a good example of why he needs to go.
Thanks for the revealing interview. To me it shows someone who frequently lashes out at perceived enemies, fails to acknowledge legitimate criticism and public sentiment, and lacks a positive vision for the future. To answer a question about crime in San Francisco by saying “Have you seen Chicago?” is stunningly clueless and will simply fuel the feeding frenzy against the excesses of San Francisco.
This last one is from a reader in San Francisco:
I live in SF, and am solidly not an elite — I can’t live in a gated house in Nob Hill and take Uber everywhere. I rely on walking around and taking public transit and with the surge or violent assaults and property crime has essentially trapped me at home after dark. Boudin has failed to pursue charges and point blank told the police to not pursue people committing these crimes. He also has an abysmal record when it comes to dealing with domestic violence and crime against women. THAT is why we are voting to recall. Yes, a few millionaires and billionaires also happen to agree.
I’m not sure this interview really helped Boudin, at least I don’t see a lot of readers expressing support. I guess we’ll find out how widespread opposition to him really is when the recall vote takes place on June 7. Finally, here’s a recent episode of Megyn Kelly’s show talking about Chesa Boudin and his adoptive family. If you haven’t heard some of this before you’ll find it eye opening.