District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s office released an annual report on SF convictions and prosecutions, giving both sides grist on whether he’s prosecuting hard, or hardly prosecuting.
When Chesa Bodin was elected San Francisco District Attorney, he came in with a promise to lay off prosecuting “quality of life” crimes, and send more nonviolent offenders into pretrial diversion programs like substance treatment and alternative employment. One unintended consequence of this is that it has begat all manner of statistical analysis of whether crime is actually up or down in San Francisco, analyses perhaps less intended to answer that question, and more intended to draw sides in the Recall Chesa Boudin debate.
Boudin’s office released another batch of these statistics late Thursday afternoon, in the form of a 2021 District Attorney’s Annual Report. Such annual reports are a normal thing for any department head to put out, but because it’s Chesa Boudin, there will be recriminations and gnashing of teeth over whatever the findings are.
Per Boudin’s office, the findings show a hard-working, hard-prosecuting DA. “The District Attorney’s Office filed charges in 57% of arrests presented by police in 2021, the highest filing rate in the ten years the DA’s Office has been tracking this data,” the report states. As seen above, that statistic cites an “action rate” on suspects higher than it’s been in ten years, and a “discharged without further action” rate lower than it’s ever been over that period.
But the Chronicle got their hands on another set of statistics, which is charging rates and case outcomes. And as you’ll notice in the chart below, diversions (the light green line) have taken off under Boudin, while convictions (the dark green line) have plummeted, at completely similar rates. To paraphrase biblical slang, we’re robbing from Peter to pretrial-divert to Paul.
New from me: Chesa Boudin's office just released a trove of new conviction data. We examined it carefully, along with detailed charging data on serious crimes they sent us several weeks ago. A fascinating picture emerged 1/ https://t.co/lyiswXc3Y5 @sfchronicle— Susie Neilson is at #NICAR2022 (@susieneilson) March 4, 2022
“What we've tried to do over the two years I've been in office is the exact thing that I promised voters I would do, which is increase access to diversion drug treatment programs, mental health care programs for folks on the lower end of the spectrum, and increase resources and staffing and traditional prosecutorial focus on the most serious crimes, consistent with that promise to voters,” Boudin told the Chronicle.
That is smoothly spoken. But the exact same data elicits hell-in-a-handbasket critiques from Boudin’s opponents, particularly those who juuust miiight be interested in his job should he be recalled.
This data confirms what San Franciscans have known to be true: there is a crisis of accountability in our criminal justice system.https://t.co/6HhaPgZBFJ— Supervisor Catherine Stefani (@SupStefani) March 4, 2022
“Narcotics convictions have declined by nearly 50% since 2016 while overdose deaths have skyrocketed,” District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani says in the above thread. “The success of diversion has been misrepresented for years, and relying on these programs is deeply irresponsible.”
There’s no disputing that there are fewer people in County Jail under Boudin’s tenure, but that could be attributable to COVID-19. “As of September 2021, the latest month with available data, the average daily population of the San Francisco County Jail was 814, a 35% decrease from September 2019.,” the Chron reports.
But even the SF Sheriff's Department will tell you that “The COVID-19 health emergency prompted the San Francisco justice community to review cases of eligible persons sentenced to a term in the county jail for early release. In doing so, the objective is to lower the jail count and reduce the threat of COVID-19 exposure in the jail.” So year, fewer people in jail.
Former prosecutors with the SF DA's office, Brooke Jenkins and Don Du Bain (now working on the Recall Boudin campaign), agreed that conviction rates shouldn't be the only or most important metric to evaluate a DA. 6/— Susie Neilson is at #NICAR2022 (@susieneilson) March 4, 2022
Both sides in this debate agree that conviction rates are not an entirely reliable statistic for various reasons, but we use them anyway, because they do show changes over time. It would probably be more useful to have data on the effectiveness of diversion programs.
But would that even matter, either? As Boudin’s former employee, and now recall proponent Brooke Jenkins told the Chronicle, San Francisco is currently “in a landscape where the residents of this city are saying, ‘We seem to be experiencing a spike in crime.’” And regardless of whether the data backs those anecdotal gut feelings, “We seem to be experiencing” has been a vague, but powerful rallying cry.