Today’s vote in San Francisco will not merely fill the District Attorney position but provide insight on where California stands in the national movement to change the criminal justice system. That effort, spurred on by progressives, will extend to Los Angeles next year when the county’s voters will likely decide between two candidates who will represent different views on how rapidly the criminal justice is changed with public safety the key question in the debate.

It seems laughable to say in the left-leaning bastion of San Francisco that the DA battle is over progressive politics. But San Francisco, like many cities, has seen a rise in street crimes. More and more citizens there are speaking up against activities such as open drug use on the streets and growing rash of property crimes like car break-ins.

The San Francisco political fight has the establishment of progressive SF politicians lined up behind Suzy Loftus, former Police Commission president and current interim district attorney. Her main appointment is public defender Chesa Boudin, whose interesting history includes being the child of two Weather Underground radicals who served time for a bank robbery in which police officers were killed. Boudin’s endorses are also on the left side of the political scale — even further to the left. His endorsement include no less than presidential candidate Bernie Sanders among others. The hope from the more progressive reform advocates is that San Fransisco will follow in the footsteps of cities like Philadelphia and Houston who recently voted in the most progressive candidate, one who has plans to fix the justice system by prosecuting less and seeking reforms to solve the reasons crime occurs in the first place. 

San Francisco was already headed in that direction under the leadership of former DA George Gascón, who champions those causes.

Gascón, who resigned recently, packed his bags to move south to the larger stage in Los Angeles where he wants to take his brand of progressive politics into the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office by challenging incumbent Jackie Lacy.  

The latter prospect doesn’t sit well with the Los Angeles Police Protective League Board of Directors.

The League issued a press release following Gascón’s announcement that he planned to run for the LA County job. Over a mock-up of a Monopoly “Get Out of Jail Free” card that substituted a drawing of Gascón’s face for the iconic figure on the card, the release noted that Gascón “created a statewide “GET OUT OF JAIL FREE” program named Proposition 47 and the residents of California are paying a heavy price for his misguided and misleading reform effort.”

The press release went on to list criminal statistics from San Francisco during Gascón’s tenure. “From his first year in 2011 through 2018, burglaries increased over 20% compared to a 30% statewide decline, larceny increased over 60% in San Francisco yet only rose 4% statewide and thefts from motor vehicles skyrocketed 130%, more than 10 times the statewide increase.”

In addition, the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys endorsed Lacey.  The association’s endorsement announcement challenged Gascón’s vision of reform. “His emphasis on aiding criminals over crime victims is not a position that we, who work with crime victims daily, can support. Concepts like “restorative justice” are great political buzzwords. But when the actual result is to overlook the harm criminals do to victims, it is a social experiment that we cannot endorse. We are especially confused as to how Mr. Gascón will implement “restorative justice” principles on violent crimes such as murder, attempted murder, rape, robbery, carjacking, or mayhem.”

San Francisco’s district attorney vote today is the next step over the national debate about whether criminal reform efforts have gone too far and put citizens in peril. That fight is likely to extend to all California voters if an initiative makes the November 2020 ballot to change some of the measures in Proposition 47 that many public safety officials think went too far.

The state measure likely will play second banana, to use an old show expression, to the brewing Gascón-Lacey battle that will roil LA.