By Frank Noto
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and Stop Crime SF board member Nancy Tung had a lively panel discussion on crime and prosecution in a packed SHARP community room.
Gascón cited his office’s accomplishments, stoutly defended state ballot Proposition 47 (which he helped pass), and outlined future criminal justice challenges
Tung, a county prosecutor for 12 years as well as former California Deputy Attorney General, agreed with Gascón on issues such as the coming “no money bail” crisis. But she also cast doubt on several of his assertions, sparring with him on Prop. 47, which converted some non-violent felonies into misdemeanors statewide and made it impossible to charge a theft of less than $950 as a felony (up from $450). However, he pointed out that Prop. 47 did not change the law on automobile break-ins.
Prosecutor Tung characterized his Prop. 47 policy as a “catch-and-release” program for burglars and other property criminals, as well as for drug offenders. With this Gascón-supported initiative, “police have few tools to stop these offenses from happening,” she said, including reduced incentives for drug offenders to enroll and stay in treatment programs.
Gascón discussed two recent studies of Prop. 47, both of which concluded that violent crimes, unsurprisingly, were not impacted by the new law. The studies differed on property crimes, with research released this month indicating that thefts and auto burglaries had increased. Gascon said it was too soon to judge the results, and the proposition had saved the state money by reducing prison sentences and recidivism.
There were several audience questions about local crimes and bail. For example, ten burglary gang suspects were recently charged in the City, and four remain in custody. Both panelists agreed that judicial and legislative bail reform decisions may make it harder to detain indigent or low income criminal suspects, unless they are deemed violent and dangerous to the public. That could conceivably mean more “catch-and-release.”
The Supreme Court picked the San Francisco DA’s office to defend a “money bail” case for a crime in the Sunset that could have national implications. Probation departments are not set up to replace bail nor do they have adequate resources to do so. Additionally, pre-trial services may not be equipped to adequately monitor offenders using “old technology” such as ankle bracelets.
Gascón also cited other impediments to reducing crime, such as San Francisco juries and judges which can be loath to convict or sentence some offenders. He also briefly discussed his office’s decision to not charge police officers in the separate shooting deaths of Mario Woods and Luis Gongora Pat, citing lack of evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. Tung criticized the length of time (2 and 3 years) it took to issue these decisions, and the anguish that inflicts on victims’ families as well as police officers under investigation.
Tung said Stop Crime SF is actively involved in reducing crime by its legislative advocacy and Court Watch programs. The grassroots citizens organization monitors and encourages the San Francisco Police Department, DA, Superior Court judges and other agencies to treat crimes seriously. SHARP is a member of Stop Crime SF.
Frank Noto is the president of Stop Crime SF. The views in this blog post are his own, as a resident of San Francisco.