Sen. Kamala Harris’ criminal justice reform plan represents a stark reversal from her prosecutor days on body cameras, police shooting investigations, cash bonds, and other contentious law enforcement issues, a Washington Examiner inspection found.
Much of the California Democrat’s plan, released Monday on her presidential campaign website, focuses on reducing “mass incarceration” and calls to “drastically [limit] the number of people we expose to our criminal justice system.”
But Harris took a different approach as San Francisco district attorney from 2004-11. In a 2008 letter to the editor in The Recorder, a legal newspaper, Harris boasted that her office “nearly tripled the number of misdemeanor cases taken to trial” since 2003 and argued that misdemeanor crimes “erode our quality of life and are often a gateway to more serious offenses that jeopardize public safety.”
Harris’ criminal justice reform plan calls to “increase funding for body cameras and set standards for its use” and says that the standards “must take into account privacy concerns and community input.”
As California attorney general, Harris did put in place the first statewide body camera program for the state’s Department of Justice special agents. But she opposed “one-size-fits-all” statewide regulations for police body cameras.
“We should invest in the ability of law enforcement leaders in specific regions and with their departments to use,” Harris said in 2015. That should allow for “discretion to figure out what technology they are going to adopt based on needs that they have and resources that they have.”
Harris’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Harris’s record as a prosecutor has long been a potential soft spot in her 2020 presidential bid. “She’s a cop” criticism from the Left has been a persistent theme as she’s battled rivals like former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, among others.
Despite campaign highs like her first debate performance, in late June, when she confronted Biden over his record on school busing, Harris’ campaign has since stagnated in the polls. The RealClearPolitics average has her at 7%, behind Biden at 29.8%, Warren with 18%, and Sanders at 17.7%.
Harris has also focused heavily on winning votes in the black community, particularly in South Carolina. But those efforts have paid limited political dividends.
A Morning Consult poll released in June found Harris garnering only 16% of the black vote nationally, with Biden receiving 38%. Even Sanders, who has lagged with black voters since his 2016 campaign, bested Harris, taking 21%.
Among the laundry list of liberal policy demands in Harris’ criminal justice plan is her pledge to “end money bail,” claiming the system “is unjust and broken” and “disproportionately harms people from low-income communities and communities of color.” Yet shortly after taking office as San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris routinely supported raising bail costs, claiming that people came to the California city “to commit crimes because it’s cheaper to do it” there.
Harris’ lobbying clearly paid off. Months after being sworn in as San Francisco’s top prosecutor, Superior Court judges in the district began increasing bond prices over 50% for some crimes in comparison to neighboring Marin County.
Despite the concerns she raised in her campaign’s criminal justice plan about “mass incarceration,” Harris dismissed the idea that higher bail costs could contribute to overcrowding in the state’s jails.
“The last time San Francisco did a major overhaul of bails a few years back, it led to a 20 percent increase in the jail population and severe overcrowding. So far, officials don’t seem worried about that,” she said in June 2004.
Among the highest-profile elements of Harris’ criminal justice plan is her proposal to establish several federal agencies and standards to monitor and investigate the behavior by state and local police departments. She writes about the need for “a national standard for use of deadly force,” and a “National Police Systems Review Board” akin to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Moreover, Harris calls for an expansion of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs in order to “incentivize state agencies to conduct independent investigations of officer-involved shootings,” and a doubling of the size of the Civil Rights Division.
These new task forces would be armed with access to new data from all police departments as part of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training National Decertification Index, a requirement for departments to participate in “as a condition of [receiving] federal funds.”
But as state attorney general, Harris routinely stymied outside efforts to investigate police shootings, including a 2015 state legislative bill to require the attorney general’s office to conduct independent investigations into office-involved shootings.
“Locally elected prosecutors are accountable to their communities, and when a district attorney is not following the law or has conflict of interest, the attorney general has the power to come in and take over the case,” Harris said in December 2014, in response for calls of a new government body or system to review criminal cases against police officers.
And even as attorney general, Harris did not launch criminal investigations into shootings even in the face of demands, such the case of Manuel Diaz, an unarmed Latino man killed by an Anaheim police officer in 2012.
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