In other words, he wants to punish some of the victims of smash-and-grab burglaries with longer jail sentences than he is willing to give the perpetrators of the crime.
A backlash against figures like Campos helped fuel California’s last round of over-punitive criminal-justice policies. Fortunately, there is a much more sensible course available today.
Contra the San Francisco cops and Campos, there is no contradiction in believing that California imposed overzealous penalties on petty criminals for a generation and believing that a crackdown on property crime in San Francisco is overdue. The key is to avoid the mistakes of past crackdowns by internalizing the lesson that raising the likelihood of punishment is more important than increasing its length.
San Francisco shouldn’t send first-time “smash-and-grab” convicts to state prison for five years, or for life because they’ve already got two felony drug convictions in their past.
But they should punish as many perpetrators as possible as quickly as possible.
They should force first-time offenders to do a short stint in city jail––30 days, say–– to strap on an ankle bracelet that monitors their location after their release, and to make restitution. For second-time offenders, “six months in jail to think about what they did,” plus two-years of monitoring, seems like a reasonable punishment to me.
Alternatively, city officials could continue to tolerate the window-smashing, causing more working people to be victimized and making their city a more lawless place. At some point, San Francisco residents will get so fed up that voters will elevate their own version of a Rudy Giuliani figure, embrace surveillance cameras, and otherwise react more harshly than would’ve seemed necessary if municipal officials had only exercised a modicum of common sense.
The movement opposing over-incarceration is overdue, important, and fragile. It can’t survive another era of big-city progressives failing to keep crime at reasonable levels. L.A. has 4 million residents and had 27,535 car burglaries last year. 25,899 car burglaries in a city of less than a million people just isn’t reasonable.
*Update: After this article was published Supervisor Campos emailed me, writing that “the NYT article you rely on is wrong in its reporting,” and adding, “We should target property crime and I have advocated as much.” I replied, “I am eager to update my article if it misrepresents your position,” then asked followup questions: “What specifically did the New York Times get wrong? With regard to the comments made by your colleague: Do you think six months in the city jail is an appropriate punishment for someone caught in a smash-and-grab car burglary? What else, if anything, would you do about the smash-and-grab car burglary epidemic?”
He suggested a phone call Wednesday, then wrote this:
I'm happy to explain when we speak, but the main problem with the NYT article is that the reporter is asking me for my views on the most pressing issue facing SF based on a Chamber poll. He describes that issues as street conditions and I assumed he is talking about homelessness, which the Chamber poll found to be number one issue. My comment about not criminalizing the poor had to do w/ homelessness.
Had he asked me about property crime in particular, I would have noted that I actually held a hearing on car break ins where I called for more enforcement by police. And if he had asked me about police staffing, which he didn't even raise the issue, I would have noted that my problem w/ the Wiener approach is twofold. One, he calls for more cops without any analysis of what the need is. I am a former police commissioner so I know it's a complicated issue. Two, as the DA notes, the problem w/ car break-ins is that the police have made arrests only in 4 percent of the cases, well below the national average of 14 percent. Thus, unless we do something about arrests, we are going to have a problem. Is it a deployment issue or staffing issue. In any event, happy to chat.
I’ll continue trying to find out what he believes the penalty ought to be for smash-and-grabs and update this article again if I’m successful.