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By Appointing Brooke Jenkins, Mayor Breed is the Real Winner of the Boudin Recall

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Brooke Jenkins (left)is the interim district attorney appointed by SF Mayor London Breed (right).

Brooke Jenkins (left)is the interim district attorney appointed by SF Mayor London Breed (right).

By Ian Firstenberg

In a year, Mayor London Breed has effectively insulated herself and consolidated her political power through a series of influential appointments, most recently appointing Brooke Jenkins to succeed the recently recalled Chesa Boudin.

Jenkins, the face of the Boudin recall, was sworn in as San Francisco’s new District Attorney on July 8. Her appointment by Breed marks a move away from the former DA’s restorative justice approach towards a more right-wing, ‘tough on crime’ approach. Within her first week, she issued her support for a massive surveillance expansion proposal and fired 11 prosecutors, many of whom were brought on by Boudin.

Jenkins, 40, grew up in Union City and received and undergraduated degree from Cal before going to the University of Chicago Law School. She worked in corporate law before joining the City’s DA’s office in 2014. She was the lead hate crimes prosecutor until her departure in 2021.

Jenkins was reportedly unhappy with Boudin’s decision to accept an insanity plea in the case of Daniel Gudino. Gudino brutally murdered his mother in 2020. Three expert witnesses testified that he demonstrated multiple signs of mental illness which eventually lead to a 7-5 hung jury. Jenkins, who was the lead prosecutor on the case, sought harsher punishment than the lengthy imprisonment in a mental institution. After the Gudino insanity plea, she left and became the face of the recall against her former boss.

Given the more recent firings, last week’s ‘icy’ first meeting has a much different tone.

“Jenkins responded that she wanted a review of every single case in which a plea offer had been made but not yet accepted by the suspect, and the purpose of this review would be to determine which plea offers to withdraw. When someone told Jenkins that would mean reviewing thousands of cases, she then said she wanted to prioritize drug cases,” one staffer told SF Gate on background.

While she noted that she wanted to keep Boudin hires on staff, this was clearly more lip service than substance. Additionally, Jenkins was accompanied in this meeting by Andrea Bruss, Breed’s deputy chief of staff, blurring the ostensible line between the mayor’s office and the DA.

A Regression of Justice

Jenkins has styled herself as both progressive and tough on crime, but initial proposals indicate the latter is more a guiding principle in her politics. On July 11, she sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors supporting Breed’s proposal for expanded police use of private surveillance cameras to stop crime.

The ACLU and the Electronic Freedom Foundation have both denounced this policy, saying it will invade privacy rather than keep people safe.

While corporate media outlets cherish the chance to hand wring about San Francisco’s rampant crime wave, the actual statistics, do not back that conclusion. On the contrary, according to analysis of police incident data by the Chronicle, assault, larceny, burglary and robbery are all drastically down in 2022. Motor vehicle theft, which includes car break-ins, has risen since 2018.

Despite the actual numbers, people feel like crime is rising in the city and that feeling was tactfully exploited during the Republican backed recall campaign to paint Boudin as out of touch and underprepared. It is a classic right-wing talking point and it worked in America’s ostensibly most liberal city. Now there’s a liberal face for the reactionary law and order rhetoric.

In mid-April, as the recall began to heat up and viral videos of car break-ins along Oak left the City’s wealthy liberals shaking for change, Jenkins took to Twitter, to denounce Boudin, salting the City with fallacies about “public safety is not his priority.”

Boudin offered a new approach to justice and despite right-wing media smears and a lack of any meaningful cooperation from SFPD, it was working. Crime had largely declined during Boudin’s truncated term.

Jenkins, on the other hand, offers a restoration of the City’s old approach, a move back to cash for bail, strict three strike sentencing, and harsh punitive measures.

Breed’s Best Interest

While Breed chose her words carefully during the recall, the appointment of Jenkins reflects her opposition to Boudin’s approach. Jenkins’ initial statements focusing on drug crimes and supporting Breed’s expansive surveillance proposal indicate that mayor and newly appointed DA will likely have a much less fraught relationship.

While neither the expanded surveillance nor the harsher drug punishments have been functionally implemented, both point to a very different style of justice. Different, but not new. Similar policies have been used before in San Francisco without much success. A re-institution of punitive policies will only exacerbate the existing crisis.

In a July 13 interview with ABC7 Jenkins was pressed for more concrete details about how she plans to fix the City.

“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the way that property crime affects our quality of life. And so it will be those crimes that we are now taking more seriously,” she said.

To be sure, San Francisco’s District Attorney job is likely the least appealing political position in the country. A political hot potato of the highest order. The media sensitization has made the City out to be lawless and wildly unsafe, even if — as noted above — the data doesn’t support those conclusions. So, rather than actually combat the problems of the City with long term solutions, city officials have opted for the short-term squeeze.

Harsher punishment for property crime and drug sales will undoubtedly result in huge upticks in incarcerations and convictions. Thus, the numbers look good. Jenkins gets to fulfil her tough on crime promises, Breed gets to champion cleaning up the City and, politically, all is well.

Jenkins’ appointment had a rank political stench from the outset but judging by her initial comments, Breed is the real winner here.

Stepping back, the landscape of San Francisco has drastically changed over the past year. Mayor Breed has done well to surround herself with all kinds of favorable political connections. In the past calendar year she’s appointed a board supervisor, a head of a municipal district in the wake of a federal arrest, three school board members and now a district attorney.

San Francisco, more so than ever before, is in the hands of London Breed. That’s dauting given her past policies but, at this point, the future looks even worse.

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