Apr 26, 2024
45 min
Episode 16

We Are San Francisco: Chesa Boudin

Ben Kaplan  00:02

BART riders. Hey San Francisco. I'm Ben Kaplan. And this is the podcast where we define who we are and who we want to be. We are diverse, we are innovative, we are inclusive. We are change makers, problem solvers, activists, leaders, citizens, we are open minded, optimistic, because hope for a better tomorrow, and you and you and you gotta get in the hole. This is the podcast. That's more than a podcast for Cisco. They are the world champion. We Are San Francisco.

Ben Kaplan  00:40

Hey, San Francisco. Today we're chatting with Chesa Boudin, former San Francisco district attorney, and now founding executive director of UC Berkeley's Criminal Law and Justice Center, Chesa, welcome to the show. 

Chesa Boudin - WASF  00:52

Good to be with you. 

Ben Kaplan  00:53

Tell me you reemerge in the news recently talking really about homelessness in San Francisco, the debacle that it is, and now that it's up in front of basically a case in front of the US Supreme Court Grants Pass versus Johnson and it's bring all of this to a head. So why did he feel compelled to discuss this particular topic right now? 

Chesa Boudin - WASF  01:13

Well, it's totally consistent with the issues that I campaigned on in 2019. And with the broader frustration that I feel, and I think so many of us here in San Francisco feel with the failure of City Hall to address the most visible urgent problems that we see on our streets and in our communities. We cannot expect to solve problems when City Hall spend hundreds of millions of dollars and does not even move the needle. And that's what's happened with homelessness proxy passed in 2018, the city had hundreds of millions of dollars to dedicate to homelessness. And we have almost exactly the same number of people living on our streets. Now, as we did before that Proposition passed. You make the point in your article that San Francisco has $700 million to spend on homelessness, New York City has 1.4 billion but New York City has 10 times the population of San Francisco. So we're well funded, we have plenty of resources. Why do you think there's a lot of attention focused on the judiciary, specifically this idea that, hey, we can't solve our problems because the judiciary has blocked us we need to clean the streets. We need to get people off the streets. But judges have impeded us why does that do you think become the focal point, as opposed to what politicians could do to actually get people a place to live or a place to stay local, we can all agree that there's some judicial opinions we don't like or that we disagree with. But when we see city hall in San Francisco continually scapegoating local judges, as we just saw in the recent election, that voters rejected that attempt, and as we see in the rhetoric and the protests around the Grants Pass case, and the injunction that was issued here in San Francisco, in a different related case, is a really dangerous sign for democracy. When elected officials, the political branches of government, the executive and legislative are pointing the finger at the non political branch, the judiciary and blaming them for things that actually shouldn't be solved by the political branch. And that's, that's a little lawyer speak. I'm working in a law school now.

Chesa Boudin - WASF  03:06

And the unpack what I mean by that we have three branches of government, one of them, the judiciary is a political branch. Most judges are appointed to their offices, most of them don't run partisan campaigns. They're not supposed to make the law, they're supposed to interpret and apply it to other branches of government. At the local level, the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, those are very political branches. They're supposed to engage in partisan politics and constituent advocacy. Engagement. They're supposed to pass and change laws adopt and effectuate budgets. And they've had many, many years to do that with regard to homelessness. This is not a new problem in San Francisco. But we see at least since 2018, when there was an influx of capital, a budget earmarked specifically for addressing homelessness, we see politicians doing nothing productive with that money, and increasingly pointing the finger at others like judges. It's dishonest. It's ineffective. And it is offensive to all people who care about integrity in government.

Ben Kaplan  04:03

The counterpoint to that, and maybe some people will say there's a lot of blame to go around. Right? There's a lot of blame, like everyone wants to blame someone else. But the counterpoint summons most people will say is there shouldn't be legislating from the bench like judges have overstepped, instead of just purely interpreting, applying the law. Now they're doing something that prevents the legislature or the executive branch from taking action that it needs to do that would be the CounterPoint. How do you how do you respond to that the saying, Hey, we're just trying to prevent activist judges who are taking the role and how the cities run when they shouldn't be. Yeah,

Chesa Boudin - WASF  04:33

but the reality is, that's not what the opinion says. The opinion doesn't legislate at all. The opinion simply says, If you want to use criminal enforcement against homeless people who set up tents, you first have to show there somewhere that can go to sleep. That's all. That's all it says. If you want the police and the jails and the prosecutors to deal with homeless camps, that's fine. You can do that. But you first have to have enough homeless shelters in New York City, for example, or in Chicago or other big cities in this country. If you have homeless shelters available. And people don't want to go to them. Absolutely. You can arrest them, you can prosecute them, you can do it everyone. That's been the law of the land for many, many years didn't start with Grants Pass been true since at least 2018. In the case of Boise, Idaho, so why haven't we built any homeless shelter beds? This isn't a new issue. We've known about this since we got the Prop C money. And San Francisco's refused to build any any shelter. Well,

Ben Kaplan  05:20

the thing that confused me too, was even when this started to be an issue. See, it would have been logical to say, Okay, we need to hustle. Let's get as many beds as we can, let's do it fast. If we want to fix some of our problems, we need to come together and do it. It didn't seem like there was a sense of this. Let's hustle. Let's make more beds. We have to do it. If you believe this is blocking progress. We need to work together and do this. It just seemed like okay, let's be upset with the judges. Let's just focus on that. And let's not really make progress at the core issue, which was not having enough beds, which I think all sides agree on that we just don't have enough capacity. Why don't we work together to do that? Yeah.

Chesa Boudin - WASF  05:55

I mean, I agree. We've had a fair warning since 2018, that this was the way the law was being interpreted that we had to have shelter capacity. And let's let's zoom out for a minute. Forget judges and legislators and mayors. Let's just think logically for a second. Does anybody really believe that using police and prosecutors and jails as an effective way to solve poverty? I mean, that's what the city is asking the supreme court for permission to do. The city is asking the Trump appointed justices on the Supreme Court, siding with Trump appointed judges in the Ninth Circuit who dissented from the Grants Pass case. The city saying we want to use police and jails to solve homelessness, instead of building shelters, who possibly thinks that's going to work, you're going to put somebody in jail for what a day a week. I mean, let's be honest about what's happening in our Hall of Justice right now. The district attorney is so overwhelmed with cases so unprepared that they're dismissing cases that we filed that I filed and under my administration cases, we believe we can prove that someone committed a crime that have been pending for years now. And they're just dismissing them outright, because they're not prepared and they don't have courtrooms. Now, the city is asking the Supreme Court to give it permission to dump an entire new category of social problems, poverty, homelessness, on the criminal justice system, how are they going to prosecute drug dealing? How are they going to prosecute rape or murder? They don't have court case a court capacity right now for the cases that are already filed? Why don't we actually get at the root of the problem? Why don't we invest in things that are going to get people off the street and on their feet, instead of suggesting that handcuffs are going to solve problems we know homes will solve. Now,

Ben Kaplan  07:27

the counterpoint to that, though, is that they're not trying to solve poverty by putting people in jail. They're trying to you know, if people break the law, for instance, open air drug dealing or something like that, it's Toshi consequence,

Chesa Boudin - WASF  07:39

nothing in the Ninth Circuit opinion that a Grants Pass, or Boise Idaho in any way inhibits police from enforcing laws around drug dealing, if people in a homeless camp are in possession of stolen property, or drug paraphernalia or drug dealing, absolutely nothing the Ninth Circuit has said would impede in any way shape or form police from going into those tents, going into those camps, making arrest prosecuting cases,

Ben Kaplan  08:00

one of the things that is challenging and just the political discourse, is the conflation of topics ideas like are we conflating poverty with crime? Are we talking about homelessness in the context of public safety, and these things get conflated? You're a trained attorney, you're trained to kind of focus on the issue. So complex issues, it's feels like San Francisco, we have a whole a whole group I found that are just like people are kind of frustrated, angry with the current state of affairs, how do we separate out the issues from each other? Because they're all kind of related, but we might propose a solution that's meant to solve an issue that might affect another issue. And it's very difficult to separate them out. And we're not thinking that as the public, like lawyers who are thinking about one very specific case, like like you pointed out, yeah,

Chesa Boudin - WASF  08:42

well, I think it's a really important point, you make that and I want to respond in two ways. I mean, the first is to say, I don't think it's an accident that these issues get confused and conflated, I think people in City Hall who are responsible and have had a lot of runway and a lot of money and a lot of opportunity to solve these problems and have systematically failed to do so are desperate to point the finger and to confuse and conflate the issues so that voters don't hold them accountable. I think we're seeing that from the mayor. I think that's why she went and protested outside of the federal courthouse. I mean, since when the mayor's protest outside the courthouse. That's the kind of thing Donald Trump did when he was running for election in 2016. That's the kind of thing he does, in every one of the court cases against him. When he doesn't like the Rolex. He blames the judges. It's irresponsible, it's anti democratic, and it's reckless to see our local elected officials doing that should be a absolute bright, red flashing sign about the perils of our democracy at the local level. The second point I want to make is that there is as you point out, a lot of misunderstanding and Miss Information about the issues that we're dealing with in the city. It's true, of course, the issues are related that some people who are unhoused use drugs, of course, lots of people who have houses use drugs to write. We saw that in in a number of high profile cases where a founder of cash app was murdered, and everybody said it was a homeless person and it turned out that was sure some kind of bubbly? Yeah, probably there's all kinds of drugs involved in that case, and he wasn't unhoused, the person who allegedly killed him wasn't unhoused drugs are not a problem that are limited to people who are announced. So issues aren't related housing, poverty, racism, public safety, wealth, inequality, all of these things are related in some way. And that doesn't mean that our politicians shouldn't be required to step up and implement policies that improve our city. That's what we expect. That's what we demand. And you know what you and I both have small kids, we take our kids for walks our wives, take our kids for walks, and we want and we need and we deserve for our kids, for our families to be and to feel safe when they walk around our neighborhood. And Mayor breeds failing to deliver that there's

Ben Kaplan  10:41

not many people I know are like, Oh, I don't believe in the rights of poor people. A lot of people here believe in the rights of poor people, but then balancing it with just the rights to be a resident of the city and enjoy the city in the way that historically you would enjoy a city like San Francisco.

Chesa Boudin - WASF  10:54

It's a difficult thing. I mean, if we're at a point in American history, where seeing poverty makes us uncomfortable, or unsafe. Living in big cities is tough. Every big city in America has visible poverty, every single one San Francisco is not unique. It's not an exception. You go to New York, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Austin, anywhere you go. There's visible poverty in certain neighborhoods. And that's the reality of American life. We have tremendous historic wealth inequality. We have rising cost of living, we have loss of people with untreated undiagnosed mental illness, drug addiction, we have all veterans with PTSD, there are lots of people living on our streets in every big city in America. So this isn't a question about San Francisco. This is a question about, Is it a crime to be poor? And if the answer as our constitution clearly indicates, is no, it's not a crime to be poor, then the question is, what do we do about it? The other frame that I think is really important, I want to go back to the way you ask the question, people like you and I have a right to feel safe. We have a right for families to feel safe. We pay taxes, we pay a lot of taxes. We appropriately worry about the safety of our spouses and of our kids when they're out and about. Sometimes seeing homeless camps in our neighborhood makes us feel less safe for all kinds of reasons. We have to think about what's actually going to work what's going to solve the problems, putting someone who's unhoused in jail, because they set up a tent on a street corner means the police were arrested that person clearing that tent, booking that person into jail. The jail bed that's being used to house them the courtroom that's being used to prosecute them is not being allocated to actual crimes. Two people were committing burglaries and robberies, they'll

Ben Kaplan  12:24

say there's a limited capacity in the system. If we're putting in cases into the system that are not our most critical cases for public safety than those other critical cases that are maybe much more important to the population in general will not have a spotter, make it through your argument. Police

Chesa Boudin - WASF  12:41

are solving about 1% of auto burglaries right now. They're solving less than 20% of robberies right now. I mean, what's more important for us to do with our limited police budget to have them go and clear homeless camps for people who aren't even committing a crime, or to have them investigate the 80% of robberies, they're not solving the 99% of auto burglaries they're not solving. But if a homeless person living in a camp is committed other crimes, dealing drugs committed, by all means go and arrest that person, prosecute that person, but to prosecute them simply for being homeless. I think that's a really grave danger to public safety. I mean, we already have a crisis of accountability in San Francisco because police are unable to solve crimes. Prosecutors are dismissing crimes every day that have been filed years ago. They're dismissing every day, the SF standard did an article on this, maybe a month ago said every day if you go into department 17 in San Francisco Hall of Justice, you will see dozens of criminal cases get dismissed, not because the person is innocent, or there's no evidence, but because prosecutors are ready and there's no courtrooms, that's not good for public safety. And if you think that we can simply dump yet another social problem on the criminal justice system without consequences, you're wrong.

Ben Kaplan  13:53

You want to change the trajectory of our city on issues like public safety, civic disorder, and government accountability. If you want change to happen now and feel that San Francisco City Leadership isn't moving nearly fast enough. Come join our movements. Learn more at WWE San francisco.org/join. You've been a proponent of expanding diversion programs to address root causes where maybe this is not someone who needs to end up in jail, there's maybe a way to rehabilitate that person or there's other root causes to support them. What about the argument that, okay, if you did a sweep of homeless camps, you got people not to prosecute them or penalize them as much as you could but actually try to get help enter them in diversion programs. Maybe that's like a point of where we can rally an aid and it's not meant to criminalize them. And it's not meant to really get them in the criminal justice system is we're meant to get them help because clearly there's a broken down on our system. If they're outside without a home. What is your response to that that it wouldn't have to be such an onerous penalty but more an entryway into support?

Chesa Boudin - WASF  14:56

We've tried that you know that the problem is the city is not actually committed to making the services available. I mean, it's a great idea in theory, but the the first critical step is you have to have services to connect people with. I can't tell you how many times when I was a lawyer working in the Hall of Justice, prosecuting cases defending cases that we had a person accused of a crime exactly like you're describing a person accused of a crime, who was drug addicted, and who said, I want to get help. And they were sent to the drug court supervised by a judge whose job is to help people get treatment and to supervise their treatment progress. And they were in jail. And the judge said, I order you released to a treatment facility, as soon as there is a bed available. People wait weeks or months in jail for a drug treatment bed to become available to them. So this idea that we're going to use the criminal justice system as a path or a gateway, it can work in some cases, but we don't have enough supply of the services that are in demand. I have clients all the time when I was a public defender, say, I need to get sober. And I said, Well, what are you doing, and this is why I went to a treatment facility that my friends told me was a good one, I went there, I waited in line, I was told that to show up at eight in the morning, I was there at 730, I waited in line by the time I got to the front of the line, they told me it was full, I should come back tomorrow, I went back the next day. And I waited in line again. And when I got to the front of the line, they told me it was still fall, and I should come back tomorrow and I went and I got high. That's what people say. So if we're serious about giving people who want help, or who will engage with help, services and treatment, then we need to have treatment on demand as the first step, then we can worry about the people who are treatment resistant, who refuse services, who need to be controlled, or coerced into treatment. But right now we're turning people away who are desperate to get help. So let's expand the capacity let's make treatment on demand a reality for all people on our streets and in our community who need help. And then we can tackle the more difficult problem of what do we do with the folks who won't engage with services. And when

Ben Kaplan  16:47

people look at success on homelessness, they often look to Houston. And there's different reasons, different policies in Houston that have been successful. I mean, people always point to housing first policy that really focused on getting people into permanent housing. The other thing that's in Houston, though, is a lot of communication between legislative branch executive branch folks in the criminal justice system, nonprofits all working together and communicating in an unusual way. Not so much like this is person 1011, who's homeless more like this is Bob, this is Bob's situation, what can we do to help Bob, let's come together in San Francisco, what we were just talking about, like getting someone who wants help help. It requires coordination between social service agencies and maybe the public defenders defending persons, hey, this person wants help we get let's get them into treatment and the executive branch, it has not felt like San Francisco communicates well works together. Well, to your earlier point, we are pitting branches of government against each other. What would it take you think to get everyone working together? When you were a district attorney, it didn't feel like we were all working together.

Chesa Boudin - WASF  17:49

But I think it's going to take voters sending a loud and clear message to City Hall and the November election. I mean, this mayor doesn't want to work with other people. I mean, she's worried about her own political career, she's worried about petty politics. And that's clear to anybody who pays close attention. We had a program in San Francisco back in 2018. It was a pilot that we borrowed from Seattle, where he had worked really well. It's called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. And the state funded a pilot in San Francisco so we could try to implement it. And it worked really, really well with people who are unhoused mentally ill with substance use disorders on the streets of Seattle. And we were piloting it in the mission at the tenderloin. And I was part of that pilot, I worked in the public defender at the time, and I got a real up close and personal kind of view of how it works and why it didn't work in San Francisco, let me just tell you, it's simple and it's obvious. In Seattle, people who engage with the services had a path to long term permanent housing. At the end of the short at the end of the road, San Francisco, there was no path to housing, to housing. So people who wanted services who got sober, got jobs at the end of the day, they were still unhoused. The other reason it didn't work in San Francisco is that we only the whole idea was as the name implies, law enforcement takes the lead. So if you're a police officer, and your beat is the tenderloin, you probably have a pretty good sense of who sleeps where and who has mental illness or who's using which drugs. And you know, right now, we're just kind of waiting for police to see someone or catch someone committing a crime before we intervene. The point of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion is you can intervene before that happens, you can say to the person, hey, let me give you a ride. I'm gonna get you connected with a case manager who can help empower police give them tools besides just a gun in a citation book, right? Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion referrals were only accepted Monday to Friday nine to five. I mean, imagine saying to a police officer, you can only use your gun or your handcuffs, Monday to Friday, nine to five, it's crazy. Of course, it's not going to work. And yet that's exactly what San Francisco did for a year or more and then set up didn't work. I can't tell you how many examples there are like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion like what you referred to in Houston, things that we know work because we've seen it done in other cities, but that when San Francisco pretends to try and replicate or implement, they don't do the follow through. They don't do the obvious basic necessary steps, like building more long term Homeless Shelter capacity, like having treatment on demand for people we're drilling,

Ben Kaplan  20:03

I'll give you another one, which is just more ways to prevent things before the outcomes happen, like preventing homelessness, I mean, we can do it, it's one, it's much easier to actually get someone help when they're on the verge of homelessness to stop it from happening first to prevent them. Plus, from a public policy, just good government's economic point of view, it's much less expensive for the city to prevent homelessness than it is to have someone be homeless for a year and try to get them out of that situation. What I worry about, and I don't know if you have an opinion on this is that sometimes we just have so much corruption in our system, that there's not a lot of money for different groups in preventing homelessness, it's a little bit of money versus if we have this whole complex, this nonprofit, when people got nonprofit industrial complex to deal with homelessness, once it's a big problem. There's a lot more money in that to try to deal with that. So we don't focus on preventing, even though we know it's probably the most effective, most cost efficient thing we could do. That's homelessness, you're talking about the criminal justice systems. Well, what can we do to prevent?

Chesa Boudin - WASF  20:59

Yeah, no, I think that's a really important point. The majority of people were unhoused in San Francisco were previously housed in San Francisco, they lost their homes. Now they're living in a tent or an RV. If we could prevent that, well, many fewer people living on the streets will have more stable, safe family environments for kids growing up in our communities. And the prevention point is, as you point out, 100% applies to criminal justice as well. Our system is a reactionary, system, we wait until crimes are committed for the most part, and then we intervene. That's not a good use of dollars. It's not a good use of, of limited law enforcement resources. And it's a terrible way to prevent victims from being harmed. You know, the only real consequences in that say out of burglaries are in the 1% of cases where there's an arrest made, that's not a very effective deterrent, if you want to deter crime, if you want to help victims, saying we're going to arrest 1% of people who commit these crimes. It's terrible. And that's what San Francisco has been doing for over a decade.

Ben Kaplan  21:53

If you look at like the data on, I guess, so called clearance rates of these cases, it looks really low. What maybe more of a moderate side of San Francisco would say is that police are super understaffed. We're supposed to be at 2000 Plus officers were below 1500. Lots of people retiring, it's a reflection of just not having enough police officers. How do you respond to that argument? That's the cause of sort of the low clearance rates in these cases? Yeah,

Chesa Boudin - WASF  22:19

I mean, look, we can have a conversation about what the appropriate number of police is, I think that's a pretty subjective number. And it depends on how much we're asking the police to do. If we're asking police to clear homeless camps, we definitely need more police officers. If we're asking them to reverse overdoses, we need more police officers, if we can narrow their lane to focus on their core function, things like sheriff's and violent crime, property crime, then I think we can make do with fewer police officers. But if we're going to do that, we have to invest in social services. Cities, like Eugene, Oregon have about a third of their 911 calls get routed not to fire or police but to social workers. That's cheaper, it's more humane and allows police to have higher clearance rates. There was a recent report that speaks directly to your question, it was put out by a organization based in San Francisco been around a long time called the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice. And they weren't just looking at San Francisco, they were looking statewide, but they include San Francisco data, what they found is in this report is basically three key findings. So the first is that over the last several decades, we've seen a dramatic decrease in calls for service to police. Now, whether or not that means crime is actually going down. A lot of people like to pretend that the statistics have changed in some way, regardless of whether crime is down as much as 911 calls or down. Police are only responding to 911 calls, right. And so there's a dramatic decrease in the number of if you will pitches to police or swing yet simultaneously over that same time period, dramatic increase in police funding, much more money going to police departments in San Francisco and beyond. And third, a dramatic decrease in clearance rates. So the question is if there's fewer opportunities for police to make an arrest, and more money, why are they solving hitting through or the pitches, you would think putting aside whatever the ideal number of police officers might be? You would think that when there are fewer crimes being reported, and there's more money to go around in the police department that they would be able to solve at least the same number of crimes they were solving in the 90s.

Ben Kaplan  24:19

If what you point out is true. Why are police solving less crimes? Now?

Chesa Boudin - WASF  24:22

I think the main reasons we're asking them to do way more things. We're asking them to police poverty, we're asking them to reverse overdoses. We're asking them to deal with mental health crisis interventions. We have to get back to basics. Imagine for a moment if your kids were in public school in San Francisco, right. And imagine if there was a report that came out that said even though the San Francisco Public School budget has increased dramatically over the last decade, and even though the number of kids in the school have decreases, more teachers per kid, that graduation rates and college admission rates are plummeting. You wouldn't say let's throw more money at the problem. You said we need to rethink the approach. We need to redesign the institutions. That's exactly what moderates Say when they look at problems in public schools, they don't throw money at teachers unions. Well, why are we throwing money at police unions when they're failing to do the thing we're asking them to do, we need to redesign the request. I'm not blaming police here, we're asking them to do many, many things that they are not trained for. And inevitably, that comes at a cost. And the problem is, it's coming at a cost to their core basic function, solving burglaries, solving robberies, solving rates, they're not doing those basic jobs well, because we've distracted them with all these other things that they simply don't have the tools to address.

Ben Kaplan  25:31

People point out. And they say that, you know, during your tenure, as district attorney, there was more like, we weren't all pulling in the same direction, because there was a different maybe a legitimate difference in viewpoint on how we should approach this between the District Attorney's Office and the police and the executive branch and the mayor. Now people say, those three groups are kind of pulling in the same direction. So that's their point is that we've got to somehow pull in the same direction. Do you think is that a fair point or not? I

Chesa Boudin - WASF  25:59

guess I'd make two points. One is absolutely true that police stopped making arrests when I was district attorney and started working harder under the new administration. That's very clear in their own data. There are videos I think the Chronicle did a story about a video of police watching a burglary over under visit Darrow driving up the burglars were still in the in the store, came out, watched the burglars with their spotlight on them, watch them do a three point turn, and only then got out of the car. Right? I mean, they were not trying to make an arrest. In that case, I think the Chronicle story led to some minor discipline or training for the officers. There was a widespread blue flu, as I call it during my administration, where police simply said, we don't agree with the policies, we're not going to do our job. Now is that bad from the standpoint of city governance, of course, it's bad. But let's zoom out for a minute. One of the defining features of democracy is civilian control over armed forces, if and when the people and institutions that are funded by tax dollars, that are given uniforms and weapons with tax dollars, simply choose to stop doing their job or disregard elected civilian leadership at the local or national level, we cease to have a democracy. If what it takes to get police who are well paid to do their job is a veto over democratic elections, then we no longer have a democracy. And that's exactly what I think we're risking in San Francisco. And across the country. In the argument that you posited, were massage your view, but in the argument that you put forward that some people say, well, we need a district attorney that the police feel motivated to work under, that is exactly the wrong way to look at it, you might like a different district attorney or different policies, and that's fine, you should vote for them. But the notion that we're going to make excuses for or allow police who we pay with our tax dollars will carry gun until we give tremendous power to arrest, for example, to shoot their guns with impunity, as it turns out in the city, the notion that we're going to give them that power and those resources and allow them to simply stop working if they don't like the choice of voters in a free and fair democracy. That's not democracy. You

Ben Kaplan  28:01

were elected in 2019. You were recalled and 2022. You were in office about I think, a bit over two and a half years. Do you regret anything from that period? Or is there anything you would do differently? Like you could have been more effective? If you would have got the side in or brought that side? Or let them have input? Is there anything that you would change or do differently or regret

Chesa Boudin - WASF  28:21

about a million things? I don't know if you've ever run a government bureaucracy with 300 staff members through a COVID pandemic? And two different recall attempts. But if you don't make mistakes and the context of all that, then I don't know you're Superman, underneath that jacket. Right? You know, in my first year, police we filed something like 5000 new criminal cases, we inherited that many on day one. I mean, literally, I inherited more than 5000 Open criminal cases, some of them 1012 years old. So do you make mistakes, of course, I didn't have the ability to personally be in the weeds on every case, every new arrest that came in, you have to delegate you have to trust people. And some of the people I trusted, sadly, I shouldn't have. Some of the people responded really badly to COVID. We had major, you know, limitations that our court system on our policing. So of course, there's lots of things I wish I could have done differently. But fundamentally, if your question is, do I think there's one or two things that I could have done differently that would have prevented the recall? The answer's no. Unless I could have prevented the COVID pandemic?

Ben Kaplan  29:22

Do you have a special skill that you'd love to contribute back to the city we all love? We're looking for volunteers with skills in diverse areas, like photography, videography, social media, data science and accounting. Find out how much fun it can be to change San Francisco's future at WWE San francisco.org/volunteer. You have at UC Berkeley, this new center, a chance to advance the dialogue on criminal justice reform. Is there anything you take with you from your experience as district attorney that you apply now that gives you a different perspective? work on making be more effective or approach it differently than you might otherwise had if you hadn't been District Attorney? Absolutely.

Chesa Boudin - WASF  30:04

Absolutely. I mean, being District Attorney, being a political candidate being an elected official, those were steep learning curves. And I had to do them during a COVID pandemic. So I really had to get up to speed very quickly and figure things out. I learned a ton every day. I mean, personally presented evidence to a grand jury in a murder case. That's something I'd never done before I had to make difficult hiring and firing decisions had to make promotion decision and had to make charging decisions had to anticipate defenses that were going to be raised. In murder cases, we were going to file and think about how that should impact our charging decisions. We had to do all these things, manage a budget, secured multimillion dollar grants, try to work with all the different constituencies across the city. So absolutely, I learned a tremendous amount. And I take those lessons with me into all of my work. And my perspective on life in San Francisco on politics more broadly.

Ben Kaplan  30:55

Were you hurt by, you know, someone like Brooke Jenkins, current district attorney really actively campaigned against you, but was part of your office? Were you hurt by that?

Chesa Boudin - WASF  31:04

I didn't think she owed me any particular loyalty. I didn't hire her. I think the way she went about it was really dishonest. And I think it's interesting to see that she and the mayor now seem to be at odds with each other. They seem to be distancing each other, distancing themselves from each other. But that again, shouldn't be a surprise. I mean, when people show the level of disloyalty and dishonesty that both of them have shown throughout their political careers, why would you think they'd have any loyalty to each other? What

Ben Kaplan  31:27

can we do now to change the political culture in San Francisco? I know people we needed a mayor, you think that you think it emanates? It starts from the man? Absolutely.

Chesa Boudin - WASF  31:36

When you have the level of dishonesty and corruption and petty politics that we've seen from this mayor for years and years, when you see the disinterest in solving problems, and the focus on being vindictive and tearing down people that don't tow her her line, or lift her up or fall on shores to excuse her mistakes, when you see the number of people she's appointed, she's appointed basically everybody in government. I mean, she's handpicked the district attorney, the city attorney, the public defender is

Ben Kaplan  32:01

boards, the divisors Board of Education, there's been a lot Yeah,

Chesa Boudin - WASF  32:05

so I mean, the assessor recorder, I mean, at what point not to mention all the people who were indicted by the feds, like the head of positions that have traditionally appointed, not elected, but where you might not get an appointment. In your term as mayor, she's had those appointment at the city administrator resigned after her husband was indicted for running the Public Utility Commission, the mayor appointed a new city administrator, a new head of the Public Utility Commission, she appointed a new head of the Department of Public Works, we could go on and on and on. I mean, she has more control over this city than any mayor in any other city in the country. And yet, it's constantly pointing fingers. So we need a new mayor, when

Ben Kaplan  32:39

people look back at your time as district attorney, do you think you tried to do too much too soon in terms of criminal justice reform, meaning that a lot of San Franciscans who actually support what you were doing that maybe wouldn't vote for a recall in a sort of a normal situation, but because the city they were so frustrated with the city, that it's almost like the hierarchy of needs, we want our basic safety needs first, and then we'll start thinking about all this, do you think the changing the timing of what you were doing might have helped it get through a little bit better?

Chesa Boudin - WASF  33:08

You know, you never know Monday morning quarterbacking is always a fun game to play. The reality is more people voted against my recall, than voted to get me elected. So I don't think that we were building our coalition, we actually had more support in 2022 than we did in 2019. I had 35% of the first choice votes 42%, including rank choice in 2019. We had 45%, it's 15,000 additional votes opposing the recall. So I don't actually think that that framework that you posit is is accurate. I think what happened was I wasn't running against anybody. That's how recalls work in San Francisco. Very, very difficult. I mean, imagine for a minute, we're all looking forward anxiously to the November election, right. And we know President Biden and President Trump are going to be matched against each other. Now, regardless of what you want to be the outcome, I'm pretty sure I know. But I'm not going to speculate. And I'm not going to ask you to go out right now you're gonna vote. I think we all probably have a good sense of it. But we are anxious about what's going on. We don't know the outcome. But what we do know. And I would bet any amount of money that President Biden will win 50% of the vote, plus or minus 2%. safe bet, right? safe bet. Now imagine for a moment that on the election in November, on the ballot in November, it says, Shall President Biden continue to be president yes or no? What percentage of the vote do you think you'd get then? 30 35%. Say,

Ben Kaplan  34:24

because there's a lot of folks who are Democrats that definitely don't want Trump but are not that enthusiastic is your point about that. That's

Chesa Boudin - WASF  34:31

how elections work. That's how elections work. voters don't get to imagine their perfect candidate. You don't get to write in and expect your brother or your father is going to win. You pick between the candidates on the ballot. And in this election, people who may really dislike Biden, I'm alone. I'm not excited about Biden. I'm not excited to vote for him. I don't think he's done a good job on a lot of issues. He's done a good job on some, but I would love to see somebody younger. I'd love to see somebody who I think he's better at foreign policy. I'd love to see a different person in the White House. But if Trump is the other person on a ballot ballot, you better believe I'm voting for Biden. That's how elections work in this country. Very few elected officials could survive a simple yes or no vote. And I was one of them that couldn't survive.

Ben Kaplan  35:12

And what's interesting is, you've pointed out the need to elect someone other than Mayor breed this November, people actually look to your 2019 election as an example for what could happen specifically because and tell me if you agree with his characterization, because you are a new politician, you learned all about it very quickly. But in your election, people talk about in 2019, there was a number of moderate so called moderate candidates that were kind of all you know, more towards one side of the political spectrum. They didn't really coordinate, they all were competing the same votes. And then you were able to win, because you kind of had a more clear lane on the progressive side, and people look to November 2024. And I know you're not a political expert, but they say the same thing is happening in the current mayoral election mean, there's a lot of moderate candidates over on one side, there might be someone like an Aaron Peskin or someone else's a little bit more on the maybe liberal or more progressive side that can win. Is that your sense of what happened in 2019? Is that a parallel that you think people are applying now that that makes sense? There are

Chesa Boudin - WASF  36:06

some parallels, but there's some distinctions too, that are really important. So I want to be clear about in political memory can be pretty short lived in this. Okay, sure. So let's just go back to 2019. It was a very different political moment than the one we're in now. I was the last candidate to get in the race. There were technically four candidates in the race. When I announced in January of 2019, one of them ended up dropping out. So just four of us finished the campaign cycle. All of the other three, at one point or another in the campaign said they were progressive prosecutors, they all claimed, however, disingenuously to be progressive to be reformed, even Brooke Jenkins, when she was leading the recall effort said, and have an idea who did a big puff piece profile on her when she quit and joined the recall, said she was a progressive prosecutor in the title. So let's remember that the framing of how people want to be seen. And the reality is often very different. Why do I say that? Because this wasn't a race in 2019, where people said, we've got three traditional prosecutors in one progressive. This is a race where we had four candidates all saying I'm a reformer, vote for me, and voters pick the one who was genuinely Reformer. So I don't think that's parallel to what we're going to see. In this November's mayoral race, I think we're going to see a number of candidates, at least three, who very clearly disavow reform in areas like criminal justice, who very clearly run as conservatives within San Francisco's political spectrum, and we may see one who runs to the left of them. So it's gonna be a different dynamic. That being said, there are parallels because when you have that many candidates and a right choice, dynamic, unusual and unpredictable things can happen. And the candidates with the most money in the most similar politics are gonna have a very, very hard time distinguishing themselves from each other. They're going to end up inevitably attacking each other. And it may create a lane for somebody like Aaron Peskin to win.

Ben Kaplan  37:56

What is your feeling on police chief Scott's had a chance to work with him a lot. And really, it seems like he was brought in this era of there were in the prior era abuses of police in San Francisco, he was brought in to be someone who's more conciliatory, maybe could clean up those kinds of things. And then we sort of find ourselves in a situation now where it's all about efficiently using resources. That's not what he was brought in for. He was brought in for this kind of other moment, which was also a sort of a pre COVID moment. What is your opinion of police chief Scott, and whether he should continue in that role?

Chesa Boudin - WASF  38:29

I think he's got a really difficult job. And I think people don't give him enough credit for how hard the job is, that doesn't necessarily answer your question about whether you should stay on but, you know, I think it's like with recalls and elections. You don't want to make the decision about whether someone should stay or go without knowing who's gonna replace them. I mean, can we imagine somebody who might do a better job than chief Scott? Sure, maybe. I can imagine a lot of people do a worse job too. And I think we need to be careful about what we wish for and we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. I mean, he has a very difficult job he's trying to manage the mayor be managed by the mayor, the police union, the district attorney, public constituencies and Board of Supervisors, the police commission, he answers to a lot of different constituencies. And the police union very much looks at somebody like him and says we'll be here after you're gone. So getting them to play ball, getting them to follow protocol or policy getting them to do their jobs, as we saw during administration can be really tough.

Ben Kaplan  39:21

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Chesa Boudin - WASF  40:28

That's a tough one, because there's a lot of things our city needs, but I'm gonna go with housing, like we need a lot more housing stock.

Ben Kaplan  40:35

Why is housing Do you think so important, which might be a surprising answer for someone that is obviously works in the criminal justice system? Why is housing so critical? You think, to all the problems?

Chesa Boudin - WASF  40:43

Well, I think housing is a fundamental baseline necessity for safety. I think people were unhoused or less safe. I think when we see when those of us who are out already see people run out that makes us feel less safe. I think we can have more housing that allows more economic development and allows more people to get off the streets and allows a more family integrity and unity, ultimately saves huge amounts of money in terms of the work we do to keep our streets clean to attract tourists. I think if I had to pick one thing, it's something that I think repays the investment in spades.

Ben Kaplan  41:12

Do you think the fact that I mean, a lot of people found when we were elected your story compelling of you know, your parents were incarcerated part of sort of the radical weather underground group, they spent more collectively more than 60 years in prison yet you're someone who was very successful once a year went to Yale Law School was a Rhodes Scholar, it was very compelling at that moment, your story. And then years later on the recall, it became symbolic of Oh cases, someone who saw what happened to his parents just wants to, you know, let everyone out of prison because of what happened to them. Do you think that symbolism of your life was very powerful in getting elected, but then spun the other way, when it came to the recall, you

Chesa Boudin - WASF  41:48

know, the country as a whole in San Francisco engaged in a 180 degree whipsaw politics around criminal justice? I mean, in late 2020, every major Fortune 500 company in America was tweeting or Instagram posting Black Lives Matter. And just a few months later, you know, here we are now and what was the beginning of what we now see is a major backlash for criminal justice reform. So maybe my family my background played a role in that, and I'm sure it did, to some extent, but really, what happened was, there was this major shift in public perception media coverage. I mean, think about the massive marches in 2020, summer 2020, fall of 2020, we had never in American history had a social movement as broad as diverse, as sustained as the Black Lives Matter movement. And so engaging with criminal justice reform in that moment was a politically popular thing to do. And yes, somehow, just a few months later, there was this massive national backlash. And I think it's driven in large part by media coverage of crime. Certainly, we see it manifest in some elections. And I don't know really, other than being a person who's dishonest and unprincipled. And in following the polls, what I could have done to keep up with that whipsaw, this wasn't a gradual transition. This wasn't something where I took office with a mandate to do a particular thing. And then over the course of years, gradually, I in the electorate evolve, this was literally one month to the next. And it would have been really dishonest. And it would have been a betrayal of the people who elected me if I said, I'm gonna do something totally different than why campaigned on just because the polls have changed. That's not who I am. And if it means that I don't get to be, you know, someone who finished my term in office, and that's the price I'll pay. But I believe in integrity, I believe in honesty. And I think voters deserve, frankly, far more than than they're getting honesty from elected officials in their city.

Ben Kaplan  43:31

Final question, is there a way that San Franciscans could feel like we're advancing on public safety? And we're advancing on criminal justice reform? Is it a zero sum game? Or is there a way and what would be your final point on how we could do both at the same time,

Chesa Boudin - WASF  43:48

absolutely, not a zero sum game. And I was clear on this in 2019. And throughout my time in office, I was not implementing criminal justice reform policies, because I was indifferent to public safety, quite the opposite. I was implementing those policies and those reforms, because I believe they're necessary steps to make our community safer. So I think they're inextricably linked their braided rope. You can't do one without the other the idea that we can just ratchet up punishment that we can just ratchet up police spending and solve all of our public safety concerns. That's belied by decades of history. We've tried that with the war on drugs, it is not going to work. They've relaunched the war on drugs in the last year, and we've seen a record high number of fatal overdoses in San Francisco. We've seen them try to dump homelessness and drug addiction on our criminal courts. And the result is they're dismissing cases left, right and center every day in the Hall of Justice. It does not work. We have limited resources. We need to focus those resources on the things that the criminal justice system is uniquely positioned to solve. And we need to delegate to less expensive, more humane, more effective alternatives, things that can be dealt with by the public health or the housing sectors of our government. Well,

Ben Kaplan  44:50

Chesa Boudin, thank you so much for joining us on We Are San Francisco. Thank you


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