Correction: A name was removed from the list of members of Brooke Jenkins's executive team. The individual in question was a transition adviser and not officially a member of the executive team.
The American public takes certain things for granted. One is that, when a crime occurs, the offender will face meaningful repercussions. Police officers will apprehend the suspect and take him into custody, and he will eventually experience a reasonable consequence for his actions. Innocent people will be made safe, and both victims and perpetrators will receive justice.
It was for failing to do these things that San Franciscans ousted their former district attorney, Chesa Boudin, by a recall vote on June 7. Under his tenure, unchecked crime had affected the city so severely that the facts could no longer be hidden, ignored, or explained away. San Francisco descended into chaos.
Recalls should always be difficult to achieve, and the Boudin effort certainly was. A lawfully elected official has a mandate to serve until the next election—unless that official’s inability or unwillingness to fulfill his duties has caused the situation to deteriorate beyond reclamation. Such was the case with Boudin. Despite what his office and his supporters told us, crime wasn’t falling. It was rising, and in scary ways.
Under Boudin, criminals were largely free from punitive measures. For example, though police officers apprehended people selling highly toxic illegal drugs out in the open, the DA’s office ensured that they would almost never get jail time. As reported by the San Francisco Standard, in 2021 Boudin secured just three convictions for methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine dealing, and not one for fentanyl. Instead, his office made agreements with some dealers, mandating that they take substance-abuse classes developed for drug users, even though dealers rarely consume the products they sell. This restorative-justice method made no sense and accomplished nothing as a deterrent. Sellers and buyers flooded the city. Drug users began dying in record numbers, with roughly two fatal overdoses a day on average. The Tenderloin, Civic Center, and South of Market neighborhoods, where dealers typically set up shop, quickly went from bad to extremely dangerous.
Meantime, San Francisco was also becoming infamous for pervasive car break-ins and retail theft. Footage of large and small stores being swarmed with thieves taking what they wanted and casually leaving with armloads of merchandise flooded social media. The homeless population, the majority of it made up of drug addicts needing but not getting substance-abuse and mental-health treatment, resorted to thievery to maintain its expensive habits. The sidewalks of the Mission District became bazaars filled with vendors selling stolen tools, fabric softener, jewelry, and the contents of countless suitcases taken from tourists’ cars.
Felony prosecution was rare, so crime flourished. Boudin’s version of criminal-justice reform hurt everyone.
Enter Brooke Jenkins, whom Mayor London Breed appointed as interim DA earlier this month. Residents celebrated the choice. Jenkins, black and Hispanic, was an assistant district attorney in the San Francisco DA’s office for seven years before resigning to join the campaign to recall Boudin.
Jenkins has quickly cleaned house, firing 15 members of Boudin’s staff and hiring a new executive team: Ana Gonzalez, Nancy Tung, and Tiffany Sutton. Her choice of an all-female, ethnically diverse staff looks politically savvy, but the picks are also based on merit—all are highly qualified professionals.
A recent incident involving James Spingola, executive director of the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center and a member of San Francisco’s Juvenile Probation Department Commission, gave Jenkins a chance to send a clear signal about how her office will handle prosecutions. On July 16, Spingola witnessed two men climbing up a fence, ostensibly to use drugs on the community center’s property. After Spingola asked them to move, one of the men hit him with a wooden plank, breaking a bone under his eye. Jenkins charged a 24-year-old man with assault with a deadly weapon and with causing great bodily harm. (The other perpetrator remains at large.) And on Twitter, Jenkins declared: “Under my watch, utterly vicious attacks like this one will never be tolerated in San Francisco. Violent offenders will be held accountable for their actions.”
Under normal circumstances, Jenkins’s actions and messaging would be entirely unremarkable. But her tone marked a big change from Boudin. It was precisely what San Franciscans had been waiting to hear.
Not even the most optimistic citizens believe that Jenkins alone can restore San Francisco to its glory days. But at least the city now has a district attorney who wants to do what the job calls for: taking action to prevent and prosecute crime. And that’s a start.