Can San Francisco's New DA Change the Way We Think About Crime?

On his third full day on the job, he fired the heads of the gang and homicide units, and at least five other prosecutors.
April 3, 2020, 3:11pm

Chesa Boudin's vision is simple: Lock up fewer people.

That means not prosecuting so-called "quality of life" crimes, and the local police aren't pleased.

Boudin, San Francisco's new district attorney, saw the criminal justice system up-close as a young child when his activist parents were jailed for their part in an armed robbery that turned deadly. His father is still in jail to this day.

“I have something in common with the majority of Americans, and that is that I grew up with family members incarcerated,” Boudin, 39, told VICE News. “I've been thinking about the ways in which the state responded to what my parents did, the ways in which that response failed to meet the real needs of the people who were harmed and, in turn, harmed me and others.”

Boudin started putting his ideas into action on his third full day on the job in January: He fired the heads of the gang and homicide units, and at least five other prosecutors. He got rid of cash bail, and launched a diversion program to give defendants with children a chance to get their cases dismissed. And he's vowed not to prosecute minor offenses like soliciting sex and public urination.

The local police union disagrees with Boudin's agenda.

Tony Montoya, head of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, says he believes Boudin is working more for the defendant instead of taxpayers. “He's advocating for the people that are perpetuating violence upon the victims. And that's clearly sending the wrong message,” Montoya said.

But Boudin insists the status quo approach to criminal justice is not rehabilitating people who commit crimes or keeping the community safer. VICE News talked to Boudin about his approach, and why he won’t prosecute quality of life violations.