San Francisco mayor wages a campaign against crime
Dianne Feinstein became acting mayor of San Francisco in 1978, she faced an enormous -- and immediate -- challenge: to stand at the helm of a city shocked by two assassinations.Skip to next paragraph
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Her unflinching assumption of what she calls the "emotional reconstruction" of the city impressed even some of her toughest critics. A year later she was elected to the job in her own right.
Now, midway through her first term, Mayor Feinstein is enjoying a period of relative prosperity and calm. In an era of budget cuts on all levels and a taxpayers' revolt, San Francisco has still managed to be one of only four major United States cities operating with its budget in the black. Violent crime, the sort that unwittingly propelled her into office, has taken a slight but encouraging drop in the city during the past year.
When one enters the mayor's richly paneled office in San Francisco's French Renaissance-style City Hall, the tragic events of 1978 seem a world away. The mayor herself, wearing a soft gray blouse and skirt and with luxuriant dark hair framing her face in perfect waves, is a serene and unruffled presence as she sits behind her long, elegant mahogany desk.
But during an interview, it is not long before crime and the prevention of it surface as the uppermost item on the mayoral agenda. "Crime," she says flatly, "is the most significant issue in the city and in the state. There is still a lot of fear in San Francisco, and justifiably so."
A high priority has been to beef up the city police force, adding 250 officers primarily to serve on beat patrols. Another 100 are expected to be added this year. Mayor Feinstein believes that San Francisco's tiny decrease in crime (five- tenths of 1 percent), occurring at a time when the rate in other large California cities has increased, can be attributed to the stepped-up protection.
Another side of her campaign against crime has been in urging the state Legislature to enact laws requiring stricter sentencing of those convicted of violent crimes. Citing statistics showing that 86 percent of the prosecuted felons in San Francisco last year had prior crimical records, she strongly believes that early parole and light sentencing are making crime prevention an uphill battle to fight.
"Criminals are simply not brought to justice," she insists. "The ones who are often the most dangerous to society are often let loose. With California's 1977 determinate sentencing law, criminals simply go into prison for a specified length of time and even come out, often regardless of their threat to society."
Not surprisingly, Mayor Feinstein considers the very crime she was closest to , the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, to be a prime example of the light sentencing she decries. When learning that Dan White , the man convicted of the murders, had been sentenced to just eight years in state prison, she receive some criticism of openly expressing her outrage at the verdict.
"I speak out when a particularly bad crime has taken place," she says. "Our society is so passive and there is often no recourse for the victim. The defendant gets all kinds of media attention, but, as the saying goes, the dead have no lobby."
Many of her strong opinions on crime prevention were honed during the early 1960s when she served on the California Women's Board for Terms and Paroles, which then determined sentences and parole for female inmates. "Because I sat in on about 5,000 cases during those years, I think I have a good idea of what works," she says. "the state should go back to system in which a board carefully considers the severity of each individual case."
Despite the hard line she has taken on local law enforcement and prison sentencing, she does not believe that either can get at the real root of crime. "Parents are the ones who can do the most," she says. "We as a society, need to give more care and guidance to our children, to know where they are and what they are doing. Too often kids are just left in front of a TV set, where they learn how seemingly easy and painless it is to kill."
She actively encourages citizens to take part in protecting themselves by registering their property with the police and by participating in neighborhood cooperative efforts against crime. "Pulling together is the most effective crime prevention package there is," she ssays. "The days of not getting involved, of not coming to each other's aid, have passed."