San Francisco Chronicle

Crime victims deserve more than bureaucrac­y


At first glance, Propositio­n D appears to be a significan­t milestone in victim’s rights. If passed, it would establish a new San Francisco city office dedicated to serving victims and witnesses of “all types of crime” and would establish a right to civil legal representa­tion for victims of domestic violence.

These are all worthy pursuits.

Unfortunat­ely, while parts of Prop. D, on the June 7 ballot, may have been created with honorable intentions, it is also, as we were told time and again, a purely political exercise — one that looks good on paper but fails to address the critical needs of crime and domestic violence victims.

San Francisco currently has any number of victims services programs. There’s the Victims Services Division of the District Attorney’s Office, the San Francisco Special Victims Unit and Adult Protective Services, in addition to numerous nonprofits serving victims of domestic violence. Under Prop. D, an umbrella department called the Office of Victim and Witness Rights would be created to oversee these services. Among other things, the office would be tasked with everything from providing or monitoring interpreta­tion services, case management, home visits, volunteer coordinati­on and “services for elderly clients, as appropriat­e to their particular needs.” In addition, the measure would grant a right to counsel for civil matters around domestic violence — something the bill’s author, Supervisor Catherine Stefani, estimates will cost between $1 million and $3 million per year.

But we have no idea how much this, or any of the other services covered in the measure will actually cost. Prop. D creates an entirely new department but provides no funding for its implementa­tion. Stefani assured us the office’s resource requiremen­ts would be “small.” But this concerns us, as the scope of work listed in its descriptio­n is anything but.

The director of the office would be appointed by the mayor, who would then have a year to present a plan and a budget to the Board of Supervisor­s for approval — which it could reject or leave underfunde­d. Stefani told us she took the ballot measure directly to voters instead of working with her colleagues legislativ­ely because she didn’t want to compromise her vision for the office. But that’s not how government is supposed to work.

We’ve seen this play out before: in November 2020, voters passed Propositio­n B to establish a Department of Sanitation and Streets. But no funding was allocated, and the high administra­tive cost of creating a new department means voters may not see cleaner streets anytime soon.

It’s for this reason and others that, while crime and domestic violence in San Francisco are serious problems that need to be addressed, this measure has failed to garner support even from the people it was designed to serve. The League of Women’s Voters, for example, has not endorsed the measure. Neither has California­ns for Safety and Justice, a policy-centered nonprofit that supports communitie­s impacted by crime and violence. Tinisch Hollins, the organizati­on’s executive director, grew up in San Francisco and has lost family members to gun violence. “One of the biggest challenges to what’s proposed in Prop. D is that it seems to be an investment in another layer of bureaucrac­y, and quite frankly, political positionin­g,” she said. “Many of us who have experience­d a traumatic loss or been the direct victim of a crime can tell you that adding more systems doesn’t yield any real results.”

There are far better ways our money can be spent.

Domestic violence nonprofits and crime victims we spoke with consistent­ly told us that the most urgent need is housing. San Francisco only has a handful of shelters for domestic violence survivors. There are seldom beds available, and they are designed to be transition­al spaces. There are few exits available to affordable or subsidized housing, leading many victims to become homeless or return to their abusers. Giving domestic violence victims funds to spend on food, medical care, rent, gas or plane tickets, we were told, enables them to make decisions for themselves to increase their safety. For those who’ve lost family members or loved ones to violence, funeral costs were highlighte­d as a need few can afford.

Instead, Prop. D would redirect attention away from delivering these critical services and put the focus on sorting out the mechanics of a new and unfunded layer of bureaucrac­y.

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