SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Vowing to tackle the city’s most vexing problems, including widespread drug addiction and property crimes, four candidates for San Francisco district attorney offered competing visions at a debate Wednesday night.
In a city with a progressive reputation and reformist approach to criminal justice, a high rate of car break-ins and thefts in recent years has led some to call for a tougher-on-crime approach. San Francisco had the highest rate of property crimes among the biggest 20 U.S. cities in 2017, according to FBI data released last year.
One group of voters favoring a firmer approach is Stop Crime SF, which hosted a 90-minute debate at the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park Wednesday night.
Candidate Leif Dautch, a deputy state attorney general, said he would crack down on organized gangs of drug dealers and thieves who come to San Francisco to prey on residents and unsuspecting tourists.
“I am compassionate and empathetic toward people using drugs, but I have no compassion for out-of-town drug dealers who come into our city to kill our people,” Dautch said, referring to overdose deaths from opioids.
Candidate Chesa Boudin, a deputy public defender, said he would focus on prosecuting violent crimes and felonies.
“I don’t understand why people want to focus on crimes where nobody’s hurt,” Boudin said.
Candidate Suzy Loftus, a former police commission president, touted her record of working with law enforcement. She vowed to investigate misdemeanors, prosecute employers for wage theft and reexamine every rape case that was discharged for lack of evidence.
Loftus is a defendant in a lawsuit claiming the city had a pattern and practice of failing to investigate sexual assaults. Loftus, however, says that under her leadership the police department cleared a backlog of untested rape kits and started providing regular updates to the police commission on rape-kit testing.
Candidate Nancy Tung, an Alameda County deputy district attorney with 18 years of experience as a prosecutor, said she supports reversing some parts of a 2014 ballot initiative that made some felonies misdemeanors, including stealing property worth less than $950.
Tung cited retail stores that have closed in neighborhoods across the city because they lost too much money from organized thieves storming into stores and dashing out with stolen goods, with little fear of major consequences.
All four candidates pledged to make the District Attorney’s Office more transparent.
Citing his commitment to “radical transparency,” Dautch said he would make every piece of data on caseloads and outcomes publicly available online.
Boudin said he would use data on arrests, convictions and sentencing to help identify and reduce racial disparities.
As for police accountability, Loftus said she has a record of implementing police reforms. She cited the introduction of police body cameras, reforms to the department’s use-of-force policies, and the firings of officers for misconduct during her time as police commission president.
All candidates vowed to conduct police shooting investigations within six months and present decisions on whether to charge officers at public town hall meetings, an idea that Dautch says he originated.
Tung went further, promising that if a police shooting investigation does not wrap up in six months, she would hold monthly meetings thereafter to update the public on the investigation.
At one point, Boudin accused Loftus of prosecuting “black and brown mothers” for their children’s missing school when she worked for former San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, now a U.S. senator and presidential candidate.
Loftus denied the accusation, saying Harris enforced a truancy law because a high percentage of gun violence was caused by young people who did not graduate from high school. Loftus said she does not support prosecuting parents for a child’s truancy.
After 90 minutes of debate, the candidates delivered closing statements, each one explaining how their experience renders them the perfect person to make San Francisco a more just and safe place.
Another debate is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 9 at the University of San Francisco.