Criminal Justice Conversations with David Onek: Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney

Mar 30, 2010

In Episode #8, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris discusses how we can be "Smart on Crime," her innovative Back on Track program, the need for law enforcement to proactively build trust with the community, her mother's influence or her career, and more.

Harris Interview Highlights

Harris on Being Smart on Crime:

"For too long we've offered very simplistic choices about criminal justice policy which allow us to fall into only one of two categories - either we're soft on crime or we're tough on crime. I just don't think that's working and instead I think we all want to be smart on crime. Which means recognizing that absolutely there should be serious and severe and swift consequences when people commit...serious and violent crimes. But if we are really going to be most effective in achieving what we all want in terms of public safety, we must be dedicated not only to reacting to crime after it occurs but also to preventing crime before it occurs."

Harris on Combating Truancy:

"I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime, so I decided I am going to start prosecuting parents for truancy for elementary school students who are habitually and chronically truant. We are talking about 6 and 7 year olds who are missing 50, 60, up to 80 days of a 180 day school year. That's a crime... By the time they get into middle school they are not going to be able to catch up and they will be high school dropouts. At the time they are six they are not harming anyone, it is not a big issue for anyone; when they turn sixteen everyone's knocking on my door saying 'get rid of that menace.' Let's just be smarter, let's be more effective and actually it is cheaper to deal with it when they are six."

Harris on the Need for Law Enforcement to Build Trust with the Community:

"There are communities of people who based on their history do not trust law enforcement. And it is good for no one to allow that to be status quo. Because the reality is if a community does not trust law enforcement, they will not call on us, they will not be witnesses, and they will continue to be victimized. So for those reasons, law enforcement should take it upon itself to realize that we always have to work at creating and building relationships of trust with all the communities that we are charged with serving, because it is in our best interest for our law enforcement purposes."


The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek features in-depth, thirty-minute interviews with a wide range of criminal justice leaders: law enforcement officials, policymakers, advocates, service providers, academics and others.

The Podcast gets behind the sound bites that far too often dominate the public dialogue about criminal justice, to have detailed, nuanced conversations about criminal justice policy.

Podcast host David Onek is a Senior Fellow at Berkeley Law School and a former Commissioner on the San Francisco Police Commission.

You can find more information on the Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast and listen to all past episodes on the Podcast web site.

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