Brooke Jenkins Says She Wants to Focus Less on Politics and More on the Day-to-Day Work as SF’s Top Prosecutor


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Brooke Jenkins doesn’t shy away from controversy.

After a high-profile resignation from the San Francisco Attorney’s Office, she became a vocal critic of her former boss, Chesa Boudin, and led a campaign that successfully removed him from office.

But now, having replaced the progressive icon as the city’s chief prosecutor, she’s trying to distance herself from the “distractions” of politics so she can focus more on the real work her office is tasked with.

With less than two months to go until Election Day, Jenkins comfortably leads the polls ahead of her opponents. But showing the San Franciscans that her office will make the city safer and hold criminals accountable — as she has said repeatedly at public events — remains her greatest challenge.

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The Standard recently interviewed Jenkins as part of a series about the four people vying to be the city’s next district attorney. Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity and length.

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You’ve been SF’s chief prosecutor for two months. Does the position meet your expectations? Or is it much crazier?

It definitely lives up to my expectations. This is of course very demanding.

Our city was in crisis and the prosecutor’s office was also in crisis after losing over 60 prosecutors and having to overhaul the management team to hire people with prosecutorial experience.

So it’s challenging, but like I said, very much to be expected.

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SF’s politics can be hyper-aggressive. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you were sworn in?

Unfortunately, there is a fraction of people who are more interested in politics than in solutions. I have to get used to that.

I’m solution oriented. I want to make sure we move the city forward. I feel it is my duty. And that’s why it’s hard when people don’t want that and want to focus on politics.

There have been controversies surrounding DA personnel since you took office. Your first board meeting was secretly recorded, later you fired a dozen lawyers and fired many more. Is the office still changing or has it stabilized?

It’s much more stable.

I think the first step was to make sure we brought in experienced prosecutors to run the office. The other thing is to make sure the lawyers can do their job effectively and not have to worry.

We all understand that this work is not political at its core. We have victims who need justice. We need to make sure we equip offenders for rehabilitation and re-entry into society. People focus on work. I think a lot of the politicization is left.

You were a volunteer spokesman for the DA recall, and we had a story about you also being paid by three nonprofits that have ties to the recall. Did your connection with the recall help you get hired by the three nonprofits?

I was certainly… referred to organizations by people I met during the recall, but the two were unconnected.

SF has a drug crisis and you have introduced several new policies such as: B. The pursuit of more prison sentences for accused drug dealers. How can we measure the success of these efforts?

I hope we don’t see 30 or 40 drug dealers on a single block on the street anymore. That is the goal. We’re taking steps to deter those who think it’s safe to come to San Francisco to sell drugs.

The (former) prosecutor’s office had effectively decriminalized drug sales, so they didn’t really see any consequence. We want to make sure we take action to prevent this behavior because it’s really our communities of color, our migrant communities, that are suffering because not only are these vendors on the street, but they also attract addicts, it creates violence and others kind of side effects for this behavior.

And would you consider that a so-called war on drugs tactic?

I understand that a lot of people want to use that term, but I think people need to understand that we’re in a different place in history right now.

We have never seen a drug as deadly as fentanyl on our streets. We’re losing San Francisco to an overdose every day. And as a city, and even more as a public prosecutor, we have a duty to ensure that we bring addicts to safety.

We can’t have people on the street selling anything two milligrams is enough to kill someone.

You’re from Union City, quit your job as a district attorney and moved to San Francisco less than a year ago. What made you decide to live here?

To be closer to the people I represent.

I have been representing people in this city for many years. It’s a city I love, where I’ve spent a lot of time and where my children were born. My husband has a lot of family in this city. So for me it was being there with the people I fought for.

They have worked hard to protect the Asian American communities while holding criminals accountable. Since taking office, have you brought hate crime charges in cases involving Asian victims?

We have prosecuted Mrs. Ren’s case, the elderly woman who was brutally attacked and robbed in her building. And we’ve indicted Commissioner Chew’s (assault) case, among other things.

In no case do we have hate crime charges.

I used to be the designated hate crime attorney in this city, so I know firsthand what it takes to prosecute and prove a hate crime. It’s the only charge that requires proof of motive. You must be able to get inside the person’s head and demonstrate to a jury what they were thinking when they committed another crime.

What I want to say is that I certainly recognize that I believe racial targeting is happening. And that’s something I think we, as a legal community, need to figure out how to deal with. When people specifically target a certain group of people because they believe they have more valuable items on them or that they pose a lesser physical threat in some way, we need to make sure our laws allow us to prosecute those crimes or issues appropriately .

So when it comes to prosecuting hate crimes, that’s easier said than done.

In a way yes. I hate putting it that way though.

When you feel like you’ve been attacked because of your appearance, you want the charges to reflect what you think happened. And it’s a struggle for us as prosecutors if we can’t provide that. We must obey the law.

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Unfortunately, the way the law is constructed requires proof of actual hatred or animus. And that’s where it becomes difficult to prove what’s going on in someone’s head. And if we don’t have explanations or sometimes we don’t have text messages or social media posts or anything like that, it becomes very difficult to provide that evidence.

True or false, Chesa Boudin has been blamed for many of the city’s biggest problems, though many existed before he took office. Now that you’re a prosecutor, do you have a better understanding of the pressure he was under?

Certainly. Even as a line prosecutor, you understand the pressure you need to exert to make people feel safe in this city.

I have always admitted that this was a tough job. My problem was that as a DA we have to do everything in our power to curb crime, to prevent crime. My problem with him was that he refused to do things to prevent criminal behavior and he refused to hold people accountable in many situations.

Because I am my own person.

I’m grateful that the mayor offered support from her office from the start. In all honesty, by the time I walked into the DA’s office, Chesa and his chief of staff had approved an extended vacation for almost the entire executive team.

The mayor has never tried to dictate the way I do this work. I interviewed more than one person for this position (Chief of Staff) and I selected who I felt would be capable. I would hope that the mayor would support the district attorney. We are both city guides. We both have a city to serve. And I think what the city wants is for that.

I think these are… distractions from reality.

I think the majority of the city wants not only the mayor’s office to be on my side, but also the board of directors, the commissioner of police and everyone else. They want a safer city and it will need to bring everyone who is a city leader together to prioritize that.

Polls show you outperform three of your opponents. So if you win, how would you describe your success? Or how should the press hold you accountable?

You can judge if you think I’m implementing policies that appear to have a chance of succeeding. Do we see successes? am I listening? And am I doing everything in my power to give voters what they think they need?

I think those are the benchmarks.

SF previously had a black DA: Kamala Harris, who is now Vice President of the United States. How do you feel when people call you Kamala Harris 2.0?

I think in a way it’s flattering of course, but I’m my own person. I just want to be seen as Brooke Jenkins.

I loved being a prosecutor very much, I feel called to it. And so I hope that people get to know me and see how I care about this city, that I really care about our victims and want to be an advocate for them. And that I just want to try to make this system fairer for everyone involved, including the offenders.

So hopefully I’ll be Brooke 1.0.

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