District Attorney Chesa Boudin held a press conference on Feb. 3. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan.

Despite widespread claims that the San Francisco District Attorney refuses to file charges, a recently released data dashboard from the DA’s office shows that, in 2021, Chesa Boudin actually filed charges at a slightly higher rate overall than any San Francisco prosecutor since 2011. 

What is different under Boudin is that more people charged are channeled into diversion programs that involve alternatives to incarceration, such as rehabilitation or court supervision. 

As a result, convictions have shown a marked decline under Boudin, and “successful diversions” have increased. But this pattern has also drawn intense criticism from law enforcement and residents.

Outrage over an increase in crime  

Many reported crimes, in fact, decreased or stayed level with prior years, according to the SFPD’s data for 2020 and 2021. Notable exceptions included reported motor vehicle thefts, burglaries, and homicides — all of which increased in the past two years. 

Homicides and car thefts have also increased in other cities, according to preliminary 2021 data from Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego

Data from SFPD Crime Dashboard

In his first year in office, Boudin did indeed charge several crimes at a lower rate than prior DAs, and the reduction, an overall 10 percent, has been portrayed in the media to show he charges less crime than his predecessors. 

But last year, the office’s rate of filing charges, including for motor vehicle thefts, robberies, burglaries and assault, bounced back up: In 2021, the DA filed charges on 54 percent of the cases in which SFPD and other law enforcement agencies presented an arrest to his office. 

In 2019, when DA George Gascón was in office, the overall filing rate was 49 percent. 

Screenshot from DA’s data dashboard.

In many cases, Boudin’s charge filing rate increased further in 2022. 

DA spokesperson Rachel Marshall said that 2020 data isn’t representative of the DA’s priorities. Pandemic-related factors, like court closures, slowed Boudin’s charging rate during 2020, Marshall said, and in 2021, things turned around: The DA’s office was often charging at a higher rate than past DAs. 

And it’s not all up to the district attorney: The DA depends on law enforcement agencies to present arrests to his office. Without an arrest, no DA can file criminal charges. 

“I think the reason people have this false perception that we’re not prosecuting is actually because police clearance rates have plummeted,” Marshall said. “So when people are seeing someone or hearing about a crime that is not resulting in anything happening, a lot of times — the vast majority of those times — that person is not getting arrested.” 

In fact, although Boudin is receiving fewer arrests to work with from the SFPD, his higher overall 2021 charging rate puts him not far behind prior DAs, in terms of raw numbers of felony charges filed. 

Likely due to the pandemic, the SFPD’s Incident Report dashboard shows that reports of crime made to the police also dropped in 2020, and in 2021 still remained about 10 percent lower than the 2019 level. Similarly, the rate of arrests made by the SFPD per incident decreased from its already low level in 2020 and 2021, compared to 2019. 

Last year, only 4.2 percent of incidents reported to the SFPD resulted in arrests. In 2019, about 5.2 percent of incidents led to an arrest. 

Screenshot from DA’s office data dashboard, using data reported by the SFPD.

There are also cases when the court releases someone accused of a crime, regardless of the DA’s intentions for prosecuting. In a case last month, Boudin charged two men allegedly involved in a robbery with a ghost gun, and requested the accused remain in jail. However, the court released the two men for home detention while they await their court date.

A new approach

Despite filing similar or higher levels of charges, Boudin is taking a different approach to administering criminal justice. He is not a “cuff ‘em and stuff ‘em” kind of DA. 

He won office on a platform against overpolicing and mass incarceration, and has followed through: More of those charged are sent into diversion programs instead of jail.  

That means conviction rates have been slowly decreasing since 2011, when the DA’s data dashboard begins reporting, and under Boudin’s tenure, this trend has accelerated. At the same time, the rate of “successful diversion” — when the requirements of the diversion program have been met and completed — increased dramatically: In 2021, 40 percent of the DA’s cases ended with successful diversions, equal to the number of convictions. So far this year, diversions are surpassing convictions.  

Screenshot from the DA’s data dashboard.

Boudin has taken some heat for his anti-incarceration stance, particularly when individuals released through diversion programs commit a new crime

But one-year recidivism rates have stayed relatively constant over the past five years, according to Mikaela Rabinowitz, the Director of Data, Research, and Analytics at the DA’s office. “The proportion of people who are presented to us who have prior arrests is pretty much exactly the same now as it always has been,” Rabinowitz told Mission Local. 

And Boudin cannot take sole credit for the growing rate of cases sent to diversion programs; Rabinowitz said that, since these programs are often so lengthy, many of the cases resolved in 2020 and even 2021 would have begun their diversion programs prior to Boudin taking office. 

A January, 2022, policy brief from the California Policy Lab found that youth given the opportunity to participate in the Make-It-Right diversion program had a 19-percent lower likelihood of being arrested again within six months, a 44-percent reduction relative to youth who were prosecuted in the traditional juvenile justice system. 

“We want to address root causes of crime,” said spokesperson Marshall. “And when we think that can be helped through one of these diversion programs, then we absolutely support that.” 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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23 Comments

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  1. No DA can win convictions when SFPD drags its feet collecting actual evidence (to say nothing of the POA spending all its effort attacking the DA).
    Officer Meyer was my first SFPD contact, to our traffic squad. I wonder what he would make of all this. Probably not ACLU, but I hope not “Punisher”.

  2. The people who tore down the statues in Golden Gate Park were never charged, nor Jason Kruta for trying to steal an election. I won’t vote against the recall unless the people who stole the statue are charged.

    1. Good riddance to Junipero Serra statue!
      Unsure of the Grant one getting knocked down, but it is HARDLY a priority in SF.
      The guy you mention was arrested.

  3. Every problem in SFis Boudin fault you all said that about Newsom but couldn’t recall him.
    Rule one Boudin broke clean up SFPD, Gascon didn’t fu_k with SFPD..
    Of course SFPD has no sins or fault!

  4. Eleni,
    Boudin defines, “filing/charging/prosecuting” as looking at an SFPD arrest, temporarily reviewing it, and then immediately dropping it or pleading to an unrelated misdemeanor. Boudin technically still calls that act of window shopping as “prosecuting.” That is misleading and goes against the public’s understanding of “filing/charging/prosecuting” as pursuing a conviction for the felony charges the person was arrested for. Ask him if you don’t believe me.

  5. Yeah I learned fast.money buys justice!
    Look how much the POA blew to stop Boudin rule one as SF DA the cops are off limits!

  6. And yet, the Bayview H.P. is full of failed diversions and recidivism while “lesser” victims are told Chesa is a savior. Meanwhile, privileged neighborhoods can debate the opening/closures of streets while we have bodies laying in our’s. The true absurdity is how much defense the media and folks living in the mountains of Marin are giving Chesa, but not the victims and residents just trying to live. Utopia is nice.

  7. Hey I didnt vote for Boudin I picked Susy but unlike the Warriors she didnt know having Greg Suhr around is the kiss of death. When he applied for head of security with the Warriors my boy said Clyde the brothers can’t stand Suhr and the NBA will tell him

    1. Suhr and Nuru – the corrupt team that enjoyed ruining SF kid’s lives with felony charges for applying a micron of pigment to a surface they didn’t own (graffiti), while society mindlessly tolerates massive billboards and ads plastered everywhere.

  8. If diversions increased, while the recidivism rate stayed constant, what does that suggest about:

    + the recidivism rate with fewer diversions and more jailing?
    + crime rates with fewer diversions?
    + the number of crime victims with fewer diversions?
    + about FIRST focusing on actual victims of crime and convicted criminals SECOND?

    Bonus question: Discuss: were those diversions as successful as claimed?

  9. Chesa Boudin is justice in sf, so RARE! But who is responsible for absolutely CORRUPTED DBI??!!?? They are destroying sf!!! Also MUNI, I senior and tired 😫 of no buses downtown, being stranded by MUNI! Would like to have drivers that can tell me streets they cross et al. But they DON’T know. They SPEED! Give me our older drivers with some personality and info on city, so wrong current hires!!you can’t speed anywhere insf congestion!

  10. I didn’t see domestic violence stats for diversion programs there. The city actually gets federal money for DV convictions which makes it extremely difficult for someone accused of DV to get into a diversion program, for of course totally the wrong reason.

    Does Chesa’s passion for diversion programs not apply when the city gets paid to prosecute?

  11. Is it at all possible he is refiling charges to bump his stats for the upcoming recall? Would be a clever defense on his part. He won’t see to it a conviction occurs, but will say he is “prosecuting”

    1. The problem is not just the numbers prosecuted, but who he is prosecuting and for what.

      So for example I can totally believe that Chesa is prosecuting more landlords, bankers, realtors and white professionals. Whilst prosecuting a lower number of violent offenders, muggers, rapists and so on.

      The raw number of prosecutions can hide a multitude of ideological biases and identity politics preferences.

      1. It’s not Boudin’s fault SFPD is arresting hordes of landlords, bankers, realtors and white professionals.

  12. The reality is that no matter who the DA is, San Francisco voters will whine, complain, and backbite without fact-checking: this is just the way it’s done here. SF voters are some of the dumbest voting block in California: either they vote the same way for DECADES, vote against their own best interests, don’t do any investigative research to see what they’re actually voting for, or they don’t vote at all (especially in Black & Brown communities around SF). We get what we deserve, and no matter what the data says, they will still blame Chesa.

  13. The clueless voters never check facts just bit-h about the result.
    They hated Gascon they hated Harris, what’s new they bitch about the homeless problem then walk down Market and give them money.

    1. Oh recall Newsom now the bum has got to go.
      Then they go to the polls no, wait wait we will keep him.
      Like Harry Thruman he’s got to go LOL guess not one of our best President.
      Harry you can’t Douglas M 5 star! I can’t? Watch, General Bradley senior to Douglas M told the President sir I’ll do it sir! He’ll no get me to Wake island now he fired him West Point and the whole military was WTF we got a leader here