Why don't we detain multiple offenders?

This time it is the SF Police Chief who is asking

At his press briefing Monday, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott had some questions.

The session was basically a data-driven response to the growing paranoia that the city is on a long, slow slide into lawlessness. (Presser takeaway: Crime is not as bad as you think, but we understand you are worried.)

After the formal presentation, reporters had questions for Scott about repeat offenders. In response, the Chief had a couple of questions of his own.

“If a person has been arrested five times, when do we detain them?” he asked. “When do we detain that person until he has his day in court?”

That is, of course, the most infuriating development in crime in the city. When Troy McAlister hit and killed two innocent women he was on parole, driving a stolen car, and had committed two crimes in the previous two months, which should have revoked his parole.

He’s just one of a depressing drumbeat of multi-offense criminals who have been turned out into the community repeatedly. Jerry Lyons, who caused a fatal eight-car crash was arrested at least seven times after getting out of prison in April. He was on parole from a previous DUI, but charges weren’t filed because drug tests hadn’t come back yet.

“We need to get some of these folks detained,” Scott said. “So they are not victimizing people while waiting for their day in court.”

Frankly, some of the measures are useless. For instance, judges will sometimes assign a subject an ankle monitoring device. It is laughably ineffective.

As Scott said, “Even if they got an ankle monitor, they still commit crimes. We know that because we’ve been able to prove crimes that way.”

Let’s just stop for a second to let that sink in. The criminals are wearing their “surveillance monitor” while they go out and commit crimes.

“That is a source of frustration,” Scott said. “I will admit.”

Actually, it is embarrassing.

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So cue up the bullseye on District Attorney Chesa Boudin, right?

Not so fast. Boudin has plenty to answer for, and he’s become a lightning rod for crime debate, but in this case he’s not the only one.

San Francisco judges have long played a large role in the city’s revolving door of crime enforcement. It’s a fact that even Boudin couldn’t resist pointing out. When a 94-year-old Asian woman was stabbed in June, the suspect Daniel Cauich, had a string of recent arrests for burglary and a former murder charge.

Yet he was on release when he stabbed the woman. Why? The joke is Boudin knocked over two print reporters en route to TV cameras to give his answer. Not his fault.

"We asked the court to detain him," Boudin said in a press release. "It was our view and our written motion to the court that he should be detained and did not think he was safe to be released. We made that argument to the court."

The truth of it is that many local judges are likely to decline jail time, even for multiple offenders. And that was happening long before Boudin took office. Conventional wisdom is that some, if not many, local judges are former public defenders, who are likely to embrace a view of more treatment, less confinement.

One often-used approach is for a public defender to come to court and asked for continuance, which might take months. In the meantime the defendant is released. Perhaps with an ankle monitor.

It is another example of an enduring truth — elections have consequences. Let’s be honest, when we get to the bottom of our ballot, most of us — raises hand — haven’t looked into the record of the judges. We may end up figuring, “Well, I’ll vote for the incumbent. He/she is probably doing a good job.”

And this is the result of that. Are you, like Chief Scott, frustrated with a legal system that, again and again, releases multi-offenders while charges are pending? Then you need to become informed. And vote for judges that reflect your views.

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And here’s the important part. The Mayor’s office and the SF police department say they have conclusive evidence that detaining multi-offenders can move the needle on crime.

Mayor London Breed made the point at the press conference.

“We see 1,000 car break-ins every single month — perpetrated by 10 groups of people,” she said.. “When those folks are arrested, we see those car break-ins go down significantly.”

Breed ran through a greatest hits list of the most brazen, troubling recent crimes — from the shoplifter on his bike at Walgreens, to elderly shop owners assaulted, to the 19-year-old man who shoved an 84-year-old Asian man on the sidewalk, killing him — to make a point. All of them have been arrested.

But it all feeds into the narrative, fed by viral videos, that as Scott says “start amplifying people’s fears . . . They get in our head and people start to believe this isn’t our city.”

“We have to know,” Mayor Breed said, “that there are tools to hold people accountable.”

OK. Let’s see them.


I’m sure you only read this newsletter. But if you are thinking of adding another I’d suggest Nick Bastone’s The SF Minute. It’s a good aggregation of curated local stories, complete with links. I link to it sometimes in this newsletter and — full disclosure — he has linked to mine in the past. All in the interest of good journalism.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cwnevius@gmail.com. Compliments and suggestions gladly accepted. Criticism not so much. Twitter: @cwnevius