For too long, we’ve adhered to outdated policies and priorities and adopted a narrow view of what a District Attorney can be. With the first open-seat race for DA in San Francisco in over 100 years, we have a chance to fundamentally reimagine the role and tackle the issues that San Franciscans actually care about. It’s time for an update. It’s time for Transformative Justice.
We have a humanitarian and public health crisis in our city, with 7,000 homeless people living on our streets. Administrations come and go, hundreds of millions of dollars get spent, but the figures and human misery persist because we never tackle the root causes.
Rather than shy away from addressing homelessness or blame other agencies, Leif will:
- Construct a Mental Health Justice Center. We have a serious mental health crisis in our city and in our state, yet we have few facilities for those in crisis. We need a 200-bed facility for those battling mental illness inside and outside the criminal justice system. As other cities have done, the Department of Public Health should be the lead agency for this Mental Health Justice Center, with treatment the primary focus, not incarceration. With San Francisco’s Juvenile Hall nearly empty, the city could transform the unused portions of that facility into a designated mental health center for youth and adults.
- Prosecute fraudulent evictions to keep people in their homes. An NBC Bay Area report recently found that at least 25% of owner move-in evictions are fraudulent, but the outgoing DA has not prosecuted a single one of those cases. If we create a strong deterrent against fraudulent evictions, we can prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place and focus our programs and services on the existing homeless population.
In 2017, there were 31,000 reported car break-ins in San Francisco, and my wife and I were among the victims. That’s a 300% increase since 2011 and reflects only the reported crimes – the real number is at least twice that. Of those 31,000 auto burglaries, the police made 500 arrests, but the District Attorney’s Office only took one case to trial in the entire year!
We need a District Attorney who recognizes that car break-ins are a serious problem that requires a serious response. Leif will reduce car break-ins by 50% in 5 years by:
- Launching an Auto Burglary Task Force with 4 prosecutors and 1 investigator to build big cases against the organized rings breaking into our cars.
- Exploring alternatives to incarceration like community service and restitution programs to ensure accountability for auto burglars without pure reliance on jail and prison.
- Leveraging technology to better detect and apprehend auto burglars through ideas generated at our civic tech hack-a-thon.
Our country has been rocked by a series of tragic police shootings in recent years; San Francisco is not immune to these tragedies, with nearly 25 fatal shootings in the past decade. But after years of investigation and millions of dollars spent, the outgoing District Attorney has not filed a single charge against a single officer. The families rocked by these shootings are understandably disappointed.
To regain the public’s trust and deliver justice for victims and their families, Leif will:
- Bring the necessary independence, objectivity, and prosecutorial experience to these cases. Unlike the current DA, Leif has never been in charge of the Police Department. Nor is he backed by the political machine. Instead, he is an experienced Deputy Attorney General with more than 400 criminal cases under his belt. He is an independent, courageous prosecutor who can make the tough calls in these cases.
- Make charging decisions within six months. There is no need for these cases to last for years. Let’s apply the same standard for officers as we would anyone else and resolve these cases in a timely manner.
- Hold town halls to explain charging decisions. These are tough calls, and the public has a right to know why an officer has or has not been charged. Leif will face the music and answer every question the public has about these important cases.
- Explore all charging options when current law does not allow for murder charges. Leif will follow the lead of jurisdictions around the country by being creative about what other charges might be available to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct.
- Work with SFPD to promote de-escalation training for officers. Ultimately, the solution to ending police violence is better training. The District Attorney is well-positioned to work with SFPD leadership to promote better training and policies around officer use of force, and Leif will capitalize on that opportunity.
The Hunters Point Shipyard soil contamination saga is a textbook example of environmental injustice. However, because an Environmental Justice Unit started by Kamala Harris in 2005 has been phased out, San Francisco does not have prosecutors or investigators who can do anything about it.
If we are going to be real leaders on environmental protection, we must:
- Resurrect the DA’s Environmental Justice Unit, to investigate and prosecute air, water, and soil pollution.
- Prosecute illegal dumping of trash and construction debris on our streets.
Although San Francisco has reduced its levels of incarceration in recent years, the racial disparities in our criminal justice system have only gotten worse. While African- Americans make up only 5% of San Francisco’s population, they constitute about half of the youth at Juvenile Hall and adults in County Jail.
As District Attorney, Leif will tackle these inequities:
- Start early with a “Kids in the Courtroom” program to address the racial achievement gap in our public schools. Prosecutors will provide mentorship and legal training for kids in underserved communities, sharing valuable knowledge and bridging the gap between communities of color and law enforcement.
- Make data publicly-available on every case prosecuted by the Office, including the race, gender, and age of the defendant. Without data and transparency, we don’t know where bias is rearing its ugly head.
- Require implicit bias training for prosecutors on an ongoing basis, including use of virtual reality technology.
- Champion a Universal Basic Income pilot project targeted at those most likely to be victims or perpetrators of violent crime. Non-profits are funding similar programs in cities like Stockton, and San Francisco should be leading that charge.
No one should be behind bars because they are too poor to pay their bail. Legislators in Sacramento have eliminated cash bail, but the implementation of that law has been left to the counties. Moreover, the for-profit bail industry is seeking to restore cash bail through a voter initiative in 2020.
If elected, Leif will protect the progress that has been made to eliminate cash bail and replace it with a risk-based system that will better protect the public. He will:
- Work to defeat the 2020 initiative that would restore cash bail.
- Lead local efforts to replace bail with a system based on public safety and flight risk rather than wealth.
- Require ability-to-pay assessments for court fines and fees that have been show to disproportionately impact communities of color.
- Reduce the corrupting influence of big money in politics by refusing to accept contributions from the bail industry.
Even in San Francisco at the height of the #MeToo Movement, we are not doing right by victims, particularly survivors of sexual violence. These problems reduce reporting rates and erode confidence in our criminal justice system.
We need to raise up the voices of survivors and focus on solving these serious crimes. Leif will:
- Expand victim/witness service programs and use trauma-informed, survivor-centric approaches to solving and prosecuting crime.
- Follow the lead of Alameda County and develop a Family Justice Center to integrate services and support for victims of domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking, and elder abuse.
- Eliminate the rape kit backlog once and for all. Enough is enough. There is no excuse for even one rape kit to go untested.
- Confront the recent rise in hate crimes, particularly against our Latino, Muslim, Jewish, and LGBTQ communities.
One would expect San Francisco to be on the cutting edge of criminal justice reform. But the truth is we’re falling behind many other cities when it comes to innovation and creativity.
We need to adopt the best practices of DA’s Offices around the country, including:
- Embrace radical transparency. The San Francisco DA’s Office hasn’t published an annual report since 2016. Leif will follow the lead of Chicago State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and make publicly-available data on every stage of every case prosecuted by the office, allowing the public to easily track cases from arrest to charging to disposition to sentence.
- Treat kids like kids. Young people have tremendous potential for rehabilitation, and the law should reflect that.
- Change how we evaluate prosecutors. For too long, we’ve evaluated prosecutors solely by their conviction rates. It’s time to start holding them accountable for the recidivism rates of the defendants they prosecute.
- Have prosecutors highlight the costs of incarceration, as they do in Philadelphia. While not dispositive, the financial and human costs of mass incarceration should be a factor in deciding whether (and how much) prison time is appropriate for a given crime.
- Expand restorative justice programs to more defendants and more offenses. Most restorative justice programs are limited to juveniles or those charged with low-level offenses. But they can serve an important healing function and prevent recidivism for adults and those charged with more serious offenses as well.
- Hold the powerful accountable. Elected officials, corporate interests, and law enforcement should be held to the same standard as any other person.
- Reduce legal and regulatory barriers to housing, education, voting, and employment so that people returning from jail or prison can build a stable and productive life.
- Connect the community to the courthouse by upgrading the DA’s website and case management portal. Victims and witnesses should be able to easily track the progress of a case online and obtain detailed information about court dates.
- Protect workers’ rights and partner with unions and regulators to prevent and prosecute wage theft.