Newly appointed District Lawyer Brooke Jenkins stood in a darkish blue blazer above the rotunda at San Francisco Metropolis Corridor, a pair of flags behind her. For months, she’d campaigned to recall her former boss, Chesa Boudin, saying that town wanted a warrior to scrub up its streets.
However on that July day, she had the job.
“We’re at a tipping level in San Francisco,” she stated in her first speech as district legal professional on July 8, 2022. “San Franciscans don’t really feel secure.”
Jenkins’ rhetoric was aimed toward what many noticed because the worsening state of town’s streets post-Covid, with elevated open-air drug-dealing and overdoses—all imparting a way of lawlessness that many, pretty or not, laid within the lap of Boudin.
Jenkins shortly adopted a extra punitive strategy to crime than her progressive predecessor each in tone and substance, homing in on repeat narcotics offenders and drug sellers, whom she focused with extra stringent insurance policies and harsher rhetoric. She threatened to cost sellers with homicide if their medication result in overdoses, stated she’d add years to sentences for many who deal close to colleges and revoked what she termed “lenient” plea gives made by Boudin.
However there’s little proof on the streets that these techniques are working, and plenty of say they’re merely a return to a failed “struggle on medication.” As a substitute of specializing in diversion and therapy, which have been a part of Boudin’s strategy, Jenkins has put extra of her instruments towards jailing drug sellers and punishing customers.
Stories of drug offenses have elevated 41% since she took workplace. Overdose deaths pushed by the fentanyl epidemic are on tempo to hit a document excessive, having hit 268 as of the top of April. Issues have turn out to be so dire that Gov. Gavin Newsom despatched in state regulation enforcement to assist patrol the epicenter of the drug disaster within the Tenderloin as quite a few native operations have sprouted to deal with the problem.
Whereas knowledge offered by the DA’s Workplace exhibits that Jenkins is starting to distinguish herself from Boudin—she is charging extra drug circumstances and sending far fewer individuals to diversion packages, which supply alternate options to conviction—her elevated caseload has but to result in a large change in drug convictions. The truth is, in her first 11 months in workplace, she convicted fewer drug sellers than Boudin during the last 11 months of his time as district legal professional.
Jenkins stated her strategy to operating the District Lawyer’s Workplace will merely take extra time to bear fruit. Instances can take years to yield convictions, and righting an workplace that was pushed extra by a progressive ideology than the regulation can not occur in a single day, she stated in emailed statements.
Her workplace can be nonetheless unveiling new insurance policies, which embody charging drug customers who’re arrested greater than as soon as for possession, which stands in distinction to previous years when charging individuals for having medication or paraphernalia on them was not a precedence.
Whereas each Jenkins and her critics agree that the drug disaster won’t be solved by the legal justice system alone, those that oppose her tough-on-crime techniques say that the crackdown is misguided and can’t remedy what’s, in actuality, a public-health emergency, with suppliers who can’t be arrested out of existence.
“I feel what we’re seeing—a yr into what was billed as a special strategy to drug use and gross sales—is that it would not work,” stated Cristine Soto DeBerry, who heads an affiliation for progressive district attorneys referred to as the Prosecutors Alliance of California. “We do not have something to point out for it.”
DeBerry and her crew advocate for a holistic, citywide strategy that doesn’t solely depend on arrest and prosecution but in addition therapy and different efforts to assist finish the reason for the dependancy disaster.
A Modified Technique With Blended Outcomes
In her first 11 months in workplace, Jenkins charged extra individuals for drug offenses and filed extra drug circumstances in opposition to alleged repeat offenders than Boudin did in his final 11 months as high prosecutor, in keeping with knowledge offered by her workplace. This could possibly be no less than partially attributed to police making extra drug arrests throughout her tenure—there was speak when Boudin was in workplace that police have been on an unofficial strike, illustrated in various situations when police seemingly let criminals go free. Total, she has filed 240 extra drug circumstances and 47 extra repeat-offender circumstances than Boudin.
Jenkins has additionally secured extra felony drug convictions than Boudin in those self same time intervals, with 35 felony drug convictions in contrast with Boudin’s 26.
However Jenkins has convicted fewer individuals than Boudin for total drug offenses, which embody possession and drug dealing: Boudin convicted 63 individuals in contrast with 48 convictions by Jenkins.
And knowledge revealed by her workplace additionally exhibits that she is charging a smaller share of a rising variety of drug circumstances introduced to her workplace by police than Boudin throughout his solely full yr as district legal professional.
In 2021, Boudin’s workplace charged 73% of drug circumstances introduced by police. Jenkins has a 68% submitting fee to date in 2023.
Her administration argues that Jenkins ought to be judged by the sheer variety of drug circumstances she has filed in comparison with Boudin, not the speed of prosecution.
In an announcement, Jenkins additionally blamed protection attorneys for her workplace not having extra to point out for her prosecutions in opposition to drug sellers.
“As we now have been taking a firmer stance in opposition to drug sellers, the protection bar, as anticipated, has shifted techniques,” Jenkins stated. “They’re turning simple circumstances into extended affairs that in the end don’t profit their purchasers, clog the courts and fail to advance justice or public security.”
She additionally stated that she doesn’t have extra convictions as a result of her workplace has chosen to prosecute individuals via the standard courtroom system slightly than put them via diversion packages that provide court-monitored therapy, which, if accomplished, permits individuals to keep away from convictions.
As district legal professional, Boudin was criticized for relying too closely on diversion, which he stated lowered the variety of individuals in jail for low-level offenses.
Jenkins despatched 36 individuals to diversion to date this yr as of late June in contrast with Boudin’s 167 individuals in 2021.
She stated diversion ought to solely be used for individuals with addictions, not drug sellers.
Boudin declined to remark for this story.
Final week, Jenkins’ workplace introduced that it received the primary jury trial for a felony narcotics trial since 2017 in opposition to a person who had 100 grams of fentanyl.
With little success to see on the streets, critics are fast to say that Jenkins will fail.
Retired San Francisco Decide Ellen Chaitin stated Jenkins’ robust speak in opposition to drug-dealing is simply public relations. As a substitute of addressing the foundation causes of the drug disaster, akin to dependancy, despair and homelessness, she stated Jenkins is attacking the signs.
“Individuals are pissed off and turning into disillusioned as a result of nothing is altering,” Chaitin stated.
However others are hopeful that her administration could make no less than some progress.
Terry Asten Bennett, the president of the Castro Retailers Affiliation, stated she feels that Jenkins is no less than putting the best tone in contrast with Boudin.
“Issues have marginally improved, nevertheless it’s actually a really low benchmark,” Bennett stated.
Jenkins solely has a few yr and a half till her subsequent election in November 2024, when voters could have had extra time to evaluate her progress in attacking open-air drug-dealing.
However the stakes are larger now than when she took workplace. In current months, Jenkins, her regulation enforcement companions and the political institution have doubled down on her law-and-order strategy. In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom referred to as within the Nationwide Guard and the California Freeway Patrol to assist implement drug legal guidelines in San Francisco, and in mid-June, Mayor London Breed introduced that police will start arresting individuals overtly utilizing medication, which is a continuation of a apply initiated after Jenkins took workplace of citing individuals for possession of drug paraphernalia.
Solely time will inform if these techniques have an effect. Within the meantime, Jenkins has begun to boost funds for her reelection bid, pushing a extra hopeful tone than when she was put into workplace.
In a message to her supporters final week, she requested for funds to assist her marketing campaign.
“I carry a renewed religion to construct our metropolis to what it will probably and ought to be,” she wrote.