Billionaire Democratic donor George Soros bankrolled the successful campaigns of a new crop of district attorneys who now preside over big cities with skyrocketing crime and frayed relationships with police departments.
Soros-backed DAs in Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco and other cities have fired scores of experienced prosecutors and, as promised, stopped prosecuting low-level quality-of-life crimes such as disorderly conduct, vagrancy and loitering.
Their laissez-faire criminal justice philosophy bucks the get-tough “broken windows” approach, made famous by then-New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, which targets minor offenses to cut off the criminal element in the bud.
Put into practice, New York and other metropolises saw dramatic crime reductions throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s.
Those days are long gone.
“I would describe it as abysmal,” Jeff Roorda, general manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said when asked about cops’ relationship with Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner. “It has gone from bad to worse and now there is no cooperation.”
The city has suffered a crime surge since the Soros-backed prosecutor took office. Violent crime rose by 8.8% since 2006. In terms of violent crimes per 100,000 residents, St. Louis has surpassed Detroit as America’s most violent city.
Ms. Gardner’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Her 2016 campaign received more than $190,000 from PACs to which Mr. Soros is the sole or principal contributor. His PACs have poured at least $116,000 into her re-election this year.
Ms. Gardner cruised to a primary victory Aug. 4 and is expected to easily win reelection in November in the heavily Democratic city.
Homicides in Philadelphia, which fell below 300 annually for four consecutive years through 2016, have again shot up, rising by 34% in 2020 and hitting 257 as of Aug. 3, according to police department figures.
District Attorney Larry Krasner won the office in 2017 running on his background as a defense attorney and litigant against the police department. In that campaign, Mr. Soros’ Pennsylvania Justice and Public Safety PAC spent $1.7 million supporting Mr. Krasner’s bid, a figure which startled a state’s political class that had never seen such sums spent in a district attorney race.
San Francisco has experienced a dramatic drop in reported rapes but so far this year, murders are up 30.4% from a year ago. Car theft, burglary and arson also have risen between 30% and 44%, according to police reports.
There is now also an app to help pedestrians navigate piles of feces on the streets of San Francisco.
Chesa Boudin, the new San Francisco district attorney and a former translator for late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, is the son of Weather Underground radicals who were convicted of murder for their role in the killing of three people during the 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored car.
With his parents behind bars, Mr. Boudin was raised by former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.
While Mr. Boudin did not receive money directly from one of Mr. Soros’ multiple state PACs, a network of left-wing donors connected to the Hungarian-born billionaire helped Mr. Boudin raise more than $620,000.
The donor web included Chloe Cockburn, who is with Mr. Soros’ Democracy Alliance, along with the Tides Foundation and Brennan Center for Justice, both of which have Mr. Soros as a deep-pocketed contributor.
Running on platforms that accused the criminal justice system of being racist to the core, these prosecutors vowed to either eliminate or sharply reduce enforcement of drug and minor-property offenses, and eliminating or slashing bail.
The campaigns often portrayed police as agents of a racist system that disproportionately imprisoned Blacks and other minorities.
“They’re not progressive, they’re rogue,” Cully Stimson, a former prosecutor and now a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said of Soros-backed prosecutors. “What they ran on and what they practice is a wholesale abrogation of their duties, taking whole classes of crimes and reclassifying them as not-crimes. Where they have taken office, there’s been an institutional breakdown of civic and professional norms.”
Neither Mr. Krasner’s office nor the Philadelphia police union responded to phone calls and emails requesting comment.
Their feuding is legendary and Mr. Krasner has not backed down.
He often chides the police department for harboring racist cops and has formed a task force to investigate the more than 2,000 arrests made in sometimes-violent demonstrations since the death of George Floyd. When President Trump said he might send federal agents to Philadelphia last month, Mr. Krasner said he might try to prosecute them.
Indeed, relations between Mr. Krasner and other law enforcement officials in Philadelphia have become so toxic that the top federal prosecutor there took the unusual step of blasting his local counterpart.
“There is a new culture of disrespect for law enforcement in this City that is promoted and championed by District Attorney Larry Krasner — and I am fed up with it,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain wrote last year after six Philadelphia cops were shot. On that night, officers barred the hospital door to refuse Mr. Krasner’s attempt to visit a wounded officer.
“We’ve now endured over a year and a half of the worst kinds of slander against law enforcement,” Mr. McSwain wrote, referring to chants of “f—k the police” that erupted at Mr. Krasner’s electoral victory celebration, just as they did at Mr. Boudin’s in San Francisco. “This vile rhetoric puts our police in danger.”
In March, when a Philadelphia officer was fatally shot trying to arrest a murder suspect, Mr. McSwain blamed Mr. Krasner, calling the death “the direct result of District Attorney Krasner’s pro-violent-defendant policies.”
Mr. McSwain released a statement noting that suspect Hassan Elliott was already in violation of parole on a firearms conviction when caught in possession of cocaine, but that Mr. Krasner’s office dropped the drug charges at a scheduled hearing at which Elliott didn’t even show. A year later, Officer James O’Connor was killed a year later trying to pick up Elliott in a homicide that itself post-dated the parole violations and cocaine arrest.
Criminal justice analysts confirmed the crime spikes but offered some caveats.
For one thing, crime appears to be rising in other cities with more traditional district attorneys and it is difficult to pin a rash of crime on a single elected official, no matter how powerful.
Police departments also may have seen morale plummet in the face of attacks on law enforcement from several angles, such as the Black Lives Matter protests and defund-the-police movement.
“We’d have to know if police in these cities are making fewer arrests or engaging in less proactive policing due to demoralization in response to the media assault on police,” said Barry Latzer, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
He noted that crime, especially outdoor crime, typically spikes in warm weather and that the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions could also be a factor in some cities.
Upon taking office, Mr. Krasner and Ms. Gardner fired veteran prosecutors by the dozen and critics say their offices are now staffed by inexperienced lawyers.
Ms. Gardner’s office has lost a combined 470 years of experience, according to an investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
That’s one possible explanation for why conviction rates plummeted under Ms. Gardner.
“People don’t want to work there,” said Kristi Flint, a St. Louis defense attorney who spent 10 years as a prosecutor in the Circuit Attorney Office. “They came in acting as if the police are the enemies, very combative. Then everything breaks down, and the people who are suffering the most are the victims of these crimes.”
St. Louis media also revealed that Ms. Gardner had failed to report, as required by law, multiple domestic and international trips paid for by another left-wing outfit called Fair and Just Prosecution, which promotes changes in criminal justice and law enforcement.
The group has been vocal supporters of some politically explosive cases pursued by Ms. Gardner, such as her unsuccessful prosecution of former Republican Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and, more recently, charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple who brandished guns against trespassing protesters outside their home.
Ms. Gardner’s legal maneuvering against Mr. Greitens succeeded in forcing his resignation, but the case fell apart and was dismissed for lack of evidence. Her private investigator on the case has since been indicted on perjury charges.
Last month, a judge ordered Ms. Gardner to release records of her correspondence with Mr. Soros and other figures.
As that case unraveled, Ms. Gardner sued the city, the police union, Mr. Roorda and others. She alleged they engaged in a racist conspiracy to thwart her agenda and topple St. Louis’ first elected Black prosecutor.
“I can’t make this stuff up,” Mr. Roorda said. “Her self-described ‘criminal justice reform’ agenda amounts to amnesty for the most violent criminals in the country.”
The campaign to elect prosecutors sympathetic to the left-wing agenda has not been done on the cheap.
The $1.7 million spent on Mr. Krasner dwarfed all previous spending by district attorney candidates of any party in Philadelphia.
The same has been true in smaller races: Mr. Soros’ New York Safety and Public Justice PAC spent at least $800,000 in an unsuccessful bid last November to oust incumbent Republican Sandra Doorley in upstate Monroe County.
“It was unheard of, no one had ever seen anything like that,” said Calli Marianetti, a spokeswoman for Ms. Doorley. “In 2016, in a very, very heated race, spending was between $100,000 and $200,000.”
In the same 2016 cycle, Mr. Soros’ PACs spent $3 million on seven local district attorney campaigns in six states. The sum was more than total spent on the 2016 presidential campaigns that year by all but a handful of rival super-donors, according to an analysis by Politico.
His lavish spending in district attorney races raised eyebrows in San Diego, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico, Florida and other locations. Millions have been spent on both successful campaigns, like that of Rachael Rollins in Boston, and on losing efforts, such as the one in San Diego.
Mr. Soros’ PACs also put another $1 million into a suburban race outside Philadelphia last year.
“We’re talking about just a pittance of Soros money but gargantuan sums for regular people in smaller elections like this,” Mr. Stimson said.
Currently, progressive activists are busy in Los Angeles, where George Gascon has left his former political base in San Francisco and is now trying to unseat Democratic District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
“If you can’t change the law, get people who will promise not to enforce the law,” said Michele Hanisee, who heads the Deputy District Attorneys Association in Los Angeles. “The reason you see crime rising in all these places is because the message to criminals is, ‘You have carte blanche to do this.’ It’s short-sighted and dangerous to everyone.”