He readily acknowledged that the culture within the SFPD is a barrier to creating a real dialogue and partnership with the rest of the city. How would he fix it? Make the police chief an elected office.
"From about 1850 to 1895, the San Francisco police chief was elected," he said. "I think it'd be a very good idea for this city. It's a small enough city that I think the elected politicians really try to be responsive to the public will."
Hennessey said that with $10 million or $15 million more, he could have an immediate impact on violence in the city by expanding a program he began last year called the No Violence Alliance, which combines into one community-based case-management system all of the types of services that perpetrators of violence are believed to be lacking: stable housing, education, decent jobs, and treatment for drug addiction.
Harris told us so-called quality-of-life crimes, including hand-to-hand drug sales no matter how small, deserve to be taken seriously. But it's not a crime to be poor or homeless, she insisted and eagerly pointed to her own reentry program for offenders, Back on Track.
More than half of the felons paroled in San Francisco in 2003 returned to prison not long thereafter, reaffirming the continuing plague of recidivism in California. Harris said more than 90 percent of the people who participated in the pilot phase of Back on Track were holding down a job or attending school by the time they graduated from the program. "DAs around the country are listening to what we're saying about how to achieve smart public safety," she said of the reentry philosophy.
But at the end of the day, Harris is a criminal prosecutor before she's a nonprofit administrator. And her relationship with the SFPD at times has amounted to little more than a four-year stalemate. Harris and former district attorney Terrence Hallinan both endured accusations by cops that they were too easy on defendants and reluctant to prosecute.
To help us understand who's right when it comes to the murder rate, Harris shared some telling statistics. She said the rate of police solving homicides in San Francisco is about 30 percent, compared with 60 percent nationwide. And she said she's gotten convictions in 90 percent of the murder cases she's filed. Nonetheless, cops consistently blame prosecutors for crimes going unpunished.
"I go to so many community meetings and hear the story," she said. "I cannot tell you how often I hear the story.... It's a self-defeating thing to say, 'I'm not going to work because the DA won't prosecute.' ... If no report is taken, then you're right: I'm not going to prosecute."
YES AND NO
In addition to the candidates, the Guardian also invites proponents and opponents of the most important ballot measures (which this year include the transportation reform Measure A and its procar rival, Measure H), as well as a range of elected officials and activists, including Sups. Aaron Peskin, Tom Ammiano, Jake McGoldrick, Mirkarimi, and Daly.
Although none of these people are running for office, the interviews have produced heated moments: Guardian editor and publisher Bruce B. Brugmann took Peskin and other supervisors to task for not supporting Proposition I, which would create a small-business support center. That, Brugmann said, would be an important gesture in a progressive city that has asked small businesses to provide health care, sick pay, and other benefits.
Taxi drivers have also raised concerns to us about a provision of Measure A which Peskin wrote with input from labor and others and which enjoys widespread support, particularly among progressives that could allow the Board of Supervisors to undermine the 29-year-old system that allows only active drivers to hold valuable city medallions.