Too many times, victims of crime in San Francisco are left to fend for themselves in our criminal justice system. People affected by both violent and “low-impact” crimes (like car break-ins, burglaries, and drug dealing), are neglected right when they need our help the most.
“Can I get a copy of my police report?”
“Has anything happened with my case?”
“Will someone help pay for my broken car window?”
“If I can’t afford medical treatment for my injuries, what can I do?”
For many victims, the criminal justice system suddenly becomes a foreign world, leaving them unsure of how to navigate the system. Too often, these folks just give up on seeking justice altogether. When we talk about crime and criminal justice in San Francisco, whether in the halls of City government or the pages of our newspapers, the conversation too frequently overlooks crime victims and the impact crime has on their lives. As a career prosecutor, it has always been my job to care for victims and ensure justice is served in every case. Indeed, a core responsibility of the District Attorney is to advocate on behalf of victims and communities affected by crime, particularly the most underserved and vulnerable among us. This has always been part of my identity as a prosecutor, and is something that drives me to this day.
Last year alone, nearly 39,000 “minor” crimes were committed in our three most vulnerable neighborhoods: the Tenderloin, the Mission, and the Bayview. That’s nearly 39,000 victims in neighborhoods with higher percentages of people of color, immigrants, children, and seniors than the rest of the city, yet somehow we’ve looked away. In these neighborhoods, people are held hostage by drug dealers, car and home break-ins, and the threat of violence, while the city’s political leaders tell them these crimes are “not that bad” or merely “quality-of-life” crimes. There is no other way to put it: at a time when our city is experiencing extraordinary wealth and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, we are failing to protect our working class, impoverished, and vulnerable communities.
Worse still, people in the most impacted communities all across the city face the harshest challenges when it comes to navigating the criminal justice system — including language barriers, difficulties understanding the court process, or simply a lack of access to transportation. Without the community’s trust in the system, crimes go unreported or unresolved, and victims are left to deal with the consequences of crime alone. This is unacceptable.
We can’t continue to overlook the rights of victims and the impact crime has on their physical and mental well-being. Do victims have the ability to report a crime committed against them? Do they have equal access to the courts? Are victims always provided translation services? Are language-accessible or culturally competent victim advocates available to help them understand legal proceedings? If the answer to any of these questions is ever “no,” we are not upholding our duty to ensure justice is accessible to all victims of crime.
As your District Attorney, I will address these challenges by prioritizing victims and treating every crime as an opportunity to prevent the next one. I offer six specific proposals to the people of San Francisco — not just the politically connected or wealthy — to ensure our criminal justice system is equitable to all San Franciscans, especially those in marginalized communities who are victimized and held hostage by crime:
Proposal 1: Expand Victim Services to Include Families
Our City’s victim services ignore thousands of victims every year — the families of victims who are also traumatized by violent crime. In March 2019, there were a staggering 481 violent crimes reported in San Francisco. Victims of these violent crimes are able to receive critical victims support services that help them navigate the justice system, receive counseling, and recover. Yet, family members who are also traumatized by these crimes are not eligible for these critical services. This proposal would expand victim services to include the family members of victims, so that families can heal and recover from trauma.
Proposal 2: Expand Victim Services to Include Property Crimes
Victim services currently help victims of violent crime, but we offer no help to victims of “lower level” property crimes. Our city had an unacceptable 3,604 property crimes in March 2019 alone (including car break-ins, burglary, and theft), many of them in low-income communities. While a broken car window or store burglary may be an annoying setback for some, to others it means they can no longer afford rent, childcare, car payments, or to keep their businesses open. These victims are not able to access victim services, leaving thousands of people every month in San Francisco with nowhere to turn for help. Just as we must rehabilitate criminals for the benefit of our community, we have an obligation to help victims. As your District Attorney, I will fight to make sure victim services support all victims who need our help.
Proposal 3: Bring Victim Services Directly to the Victims
Right now, victims of violent crime are often left to navigate victim services and get to and from meetings, court hearings, and victim services on their own. This means that people suffering from the overwhelming trauma of violent crime, including domestic violence and sexual assault, are often left out of the justice system — and recovery — because of factors beyond their control. This is particularly challenging for victims from low-income communities and for people who have an often legitimate distrust of the criminal justice system.
This proposal would allow victim advocates to bring services to the victims, with community visits in the home and workplace, to make it easier for people who have been through the trauma of crime to access the services they need. Victims should not be cut off from resources simply because they do not have the means to take off work, pay for child care, or find transportation. We need to make victim services accessible for everyone, not just for those who have the means and ability to access them. It’s our responsibility to help all victims recover.
Proposal 4: Advocate for More Bilingual 9–1–1 Operators, EMS, and Officers
We currently face a shortage of translation and interpreter services across our criminal justice system, despite the fact that 21% of San Francisco residents identify as having limited English proficiency. Victims of all backgrounds and languages deserve equal access to our criminal justice system and emergency services. As District Attorney, I will make sure that every step in the criminal justice system includes language access by advocating for increased staffing of bilingual 9–1–1 dispatchers, EMS, police officers, and investigators. Victims of crime should be clearly understood when calling 9–1–1 and shouldn’t face delay in getting help just because they don’t speak English.
Proposal 5: Hire Prosecutors and Victim Advocates to Reflect the Diversity of San Francisco
In the District Attorney’s Office, I will make it my priority to hire prosecutors and victim advocates who are bilingual and reflect San Francisco’s diverse communities. We must ensure that victims have access to prosecutors who speak the most common languages spoken in San Francisco, such as Cantonese/Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalog, Russian, and Vietnamese. We must staff our victim services unit with proportionate numbers of bilingual advocates to support victims in our community, and make sure all employees of the District Attorney’s Office are culturally competent and respectful to people of all backgrounds.
Proposal 6: Provide Non-English Speaking Victims with Interpreters at Court Proceedings
Right now, interpreters are only provided to victims when they testify in court, and if victims are present at any other stage in their case, they are not entitled to a translator. Victims going through the court process are already under insurmountable stress and financial strain, and we shouldn’t be adding the additional burden of not understanding what is being said about their case. As District Attorney, I will ensure equal access to court proceedings by providing interpretation services for victims who attend proceedings pertaining to their case.
The truth is, San Francisco’s political leaders have ignored victims for too long, especially those in low-income communities, people of color, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations. These communities are disproportionately harmed by all levels of crime and it is contrary to San Franciscans’ commitment to justice to continue to leave them behind. Victims should all have equal access to services, our courts, and justice, no matter their income level or language fluency.
These six proposals will reprioritize victim services and rights in San Francisco, and help make our criminal justice system fairer and more equitable for all. All victims deserve to know their rights, to be able to seek and receive help, and to recover financially and emotionally from crime and injustice. It is up to the District Attorney’s Office to take on that responsibility and ensure victims aren’t left behind in our criminal justice system. As your District Attorney, I will do just that.
Please join my campaign and support my candidacy for San Francisco District Attorney and a more equitable criminal justice system — I’d be honored to earn your vote this November and put these plans into action for you and for all of San Francisco.