San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said his office was underfunded and unable to fully staff units investigating homicide and domestic violence cases – a “turning point” situation.
In a letter dated October 29, Boudin told Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors that his office was understaffed and overwhelmed by their case numbers. For example, in the General Felonies Unit, Boudin said his staff handle 185 to 229 cases per year, far more than the national standard of 150.
Boudin said the lack of adequate staff hampered “his office’s ability to provide constitutionally required services”.
The letter came shortly after the city closed a massive budget deficit of $ 1.5 billion, largely caused by the pandemic, and several weeks before City Hall learned it was tackling another $ 116 million deficit had. With many departments facing budget cuts that year, the prosecution received a slight increase in its budget from $ 73.59 million to $ 73.72 million.
Despite the slight increase, Boudin said his office was still tense in the face of the pandemic as “COVID-19 has impacted staff capacity due to illness, family vacations and court closings,” which has led to delays in processing legal cases. He added that the department’s staffing problems existed long before his takeover in January.
In addition, demand for services for children related to children exposed to domestic violence during the pandemic increased by 60% in the domestic violence department with low staff. The problems were also “exacerbated” by the need to investigate the alleged misconduct of a forensic laboratory analyst from the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
Supervisor Catherine Stefani, the most fiscally conservative board member, said Boudin should “budget as much as possible to ensure public safety for all Franciscans”.
At the start of the pandemic, Breed ran vacancies across town to prevent layoffs and service cuts. Any department that wanted to fill a position had to convince the mayor and the board of directors that such a position was essential. Prosecutors were allowed to hire four of the eight posts they requested, but David Campos, Boudin’s chief of staff, said that was not enough.
“People need to understand that this is serious and that we all have obligations and responsibilities,” he said. “But we need the resources.”
In September, prosecutors announced the establishment of a Post-Conviction Unit and an Innocence Commission to review potential cases of unlawful convictions and to present the results to Boudin. Campos said although there is no additional cost associated with the unit, the staff have assumed “additional responsibilities” to lead it.
Jeff Cretan, a spokesman for the mayor, said that all city departments “must focus primarily on providing basic city services and top department priorities”.
“We had to close a $ 1.5 billion deficit and now we have to fill another $ 116 million hole,” said Cretan. “This is a difficult time for the city and our residents, which requires difficult decisions.”
Trisha Thadani is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @TrishaThadani