Building community trust, one incarceration at a time: Your recent article on San Francisco's homicides ["Let It Bleed," Jan. 18] raises important issues for our criminal justice system that deserve a response.
Providing a safer San Francisco is what the city's law enforcement agencies are all about. District Attorney Kamala Harris has made the prosecution of violent crime her highest priority. Every family who loses a son or daughter desperately wants and deserves justice. Holding those responsible for the homicide rate -- the murderers -- is the common goal of both the Police Department and the District Attorney's Office.
The facts are that San Francisco experienced 96 homicides in 2005. The police made arrests in 22 of those cases. There were 88 homicides in 2004, and arrests in 19 of those. The District Attorney's Office has charged 78 percent of the suspects arrested by police for homicide in the past two years. Our conviction rate for murders is 87 percent.
As prosecutors, we are striving to charge as many cases as evidence can support. It is important to remember, however, that many of the remaining cases that we have not charged are still being investigated. We are still working closely with inspectors, families, and the community to develop further evidence that would not just merit a trial but win a conviction. Why not just go with what we've got? Because our legal system does not allow a person to be charged for the same crime twice. When we lose a case because a jury finds insufficient evidence to convict, we can never bring that suspect to trial again for that murder. Justice is not served, and the city is not made safer, by a "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach. The prohibition against double jeopardy means that we get just one opportunity to prosecute for each murder. We have to be sure the evidence is as strong as possible so that we can secure a conviction. Justice is served, and the city made safer, by removing murderers from the streets and putting them in prison.
How can we raise the percentage of cases charged? Certainly, one key is to convince more community members to come forward as witnesses. Our office has won additional funds for witness protection and worked to build trust in the community. Needed are good investigations that locate and develop good witnesses (who are willing to testify), which make for good arrests, which result in successful prosecutions and convictions that put murderers in jail where they belong.
The DA's office has also attacked the root causes of homicides -- guns and drugs. DA Harris has implemented a five-point plan to reduce gun violence that is paying off -- the DA's office has nearly doubled the conviction rate on felony gun cases that went to trial, from about 43 percent in 2003, to 84 percent in 2004 and 2005. In addition, the DA's office took 35 percent more gun cases to trial in 2004 than 2003. We have also worked with the courts to increase the bail for gun crimes and to toughen Drug Court to not let drug dealers off.
Building trust with the community is a long process, and it is going to take time. This process will be hastened with every successful arrest and corresponding conviction. On Friday, January 20, with the assistance of three witnesses who had the courage to testify at trial, Assistant District Attorney Eric Fleming secured a conviction of two murder suspects in a homicide that occurred in the Western Addition. These murderers are now respectively looking at 25 years to life and 50 years to life. In other words, neither one of them will be back in our community anytime soon, and San Francisco is much safer without them.
Chief of Administration
Office of San Francisco District Attorney Kamala D. Harris
Infiltrator deflated, porn world elated: Your editor's note regarding "Dieter Gone Wild" ["Letters," Jan. 18] was forwarded to me by a Bay Area reader. Perhaps in the future if you'd like coverage of the AVN Awards or the FOXE Awards or the XRCO Awards or the GayVN Awards or any other industry event, you could tap one of the vetted folks who actually work within the adult industry instead of yet another mainstream wannabe who thinks tossing in a few porn star names and giggling behind his hand somehow makes him cutting edge, clever, or cool. Sorry if I seem intolerant on this point, but I am so totally over seeing people who know nothing about the world I know so much about being held up as experts when they're not.
Although I'm sure the process wasn't enjoyable, I'm glad you cut Leon loose. While this is a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, deceptive journalists don't do us any favors; not in the short term and certainly not in the long term.
For what it's worth, I've attended both the FOXE Awards and the AVN Awards and they're quite different.
Theresa "Darklady" Reed