San Francisco Mayor Changes Views

San Francisco Mayor London Breed at a press conference as San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott listens before speaking on a mid-year report on public safety statistics in San Francisco, Calif., July 12, 2021. (Lea Suzuki/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

When Democrats went soft on crime in the 1960s and ’70s, it took two Republican presidential landslides and almost two decades for the party to recover its sense. In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed is showing that the turnaround can happen in less than two years.

Just last July, Mayor Breed announced $120 million in budget cuts to the police and promised to dedicate these funds to achieving racial equality. She was defunding the police and “prioritizing investments in the African American community around housing, mental health and wellness, workforce development, economic justice, education, advocacy and accountability.”

Breed was joined in this program by Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s new George Soros–backed district attorney. He reduced San Francisco’s jail population by 25 percent in one year and pressured prosecutors to go soft on crime. He ended cash-bail programs and replaced them with a lenient program of discretion. He also used his office to lobby for the commutation and release of his own father from prison. Boudin is the son of the Weather Underground’s David Gilbert, who participated in the 1981 Brink’s robbery and triple homicide.

For San Franciscans, it has been a disaster. From the onset of the pandemic to the end of 2020, burglaries rose 62 percent. Murders surged. And as the calendar turned to 2021, San Francisco saw itself subject to the new style of smash-and-grab looting. Residents knew instantly what was happening across the city. The tech-connected world that San Francisco created allows the city’s residents to easily share the photos and videos from their security systems and smart-home doorbells with each other. Early last month, a campaign to recall Boudin collected enough signatures, and he faces the judgment of voters next June.

Breed has gotten the message and is trying to transform herself into a law-and-order mayor.

In an extraordinary press conference on Tuesday, Breed previewed a far-reaching campaign against crime. She promised to end “the reign of criminals who are destroying our city.” Her tone was refreshing and appropriately belligerent. “What I’m proposing today, and what I will be proposing in the future, will make a lot of people uncomfortable,” she said. “And I don’t care.”

What’s the agenda? Breed plans to refund the police and use them “aggressively.” That includes amending and reforming surveillance laws that she said effectively barred police from responding to crime in real time. She said the city would focus in particular on the Tenderloin neighborhood, where drug-dealing and other crimes are committed regularly, openly, and brazenly. She promised warrant sweeps and an increased police presence with a mandate to interrupt open-air drug abuse and illegal vending. The city will take on the overdue work of cleaning up the neighborhood and lighting it properly at night.

At first glance, this anti-crime agenda looks like the same combination of principles from Sir Robert Peel and modern techniques that saved New York City a generation ago. Breed deliberately sought to send a message through the headlines to San Francisco’s voters, when she said that the city must be “less tolerant of the bullsh** that is destroying our city.”

“Less tolerant” is a revolutionary slogan for Democrats.

“We are a city that prides ourselves on second chances,” Breed said. But “our compassion should not be confused for weakness or indifference.”

In truth, this is Breed resetting and taking a second chance at becoming a competent mayor. If she does reduce crime in the city, the rhetorical and policy stances she took this week will be a model to Democratic mayors everywhere. We wish her well in this turn toward sanity and hope San Franciscans hold her accountable to her promises.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.