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Re-fund the police? Even California’s cannabis shops want more cops amid robbery spree


By The Examiner Editorial Board

In November, 56% of voters in Minneapolis rejected a measure to disband the city’s police department and replace it with something called the Department of Public Safety. The measure’s failure in the city where a police officer killed George Floyd in 2020 provided a stinging rebuke to activists who overestimated the public appetite for abolishing police.

Even before the vote on Minneapolis Question 2, however, super-liberal San Francisco had issued a reality check for the viability of the “defund the police” movement. In 2020, Mayor London Breed announced plans for a $120 million cut to law enforcement. She promised to redirect the money to address disparities in the Black community through the Dream Keeper Initiative.

National media framed her proposal as a defunding of sorts, but the announcement may have been more PR than policy.

“In fact, whether funds ever were reallocated from law enforcement to the degree that Mayor London Breed claimed was always questionable, a matter of statistics and semantics as much as concrete political priorities,” wrote Benjamin Schneider and Veronica Irwin in the SF Weekly on June 16. “But in light of this year’s proposed budget, and confirmation from the mayor’s office, there’s no longer any doubt: Law enforcement spending is going up and the Dream Keeper Initiative is now being paid for through the General Fund.”

In December, Breed has turned Union Square into a police zone due to the brazen smash-and-grab looting at stores like Louis Vuitton. The robberies have apparently also been lucrative for police.

“As predicted, the post-Louis Vuitton Union Square SFPD deployment was an overtime bonanza,” wrote John Hamasaki, a member of The City’s police commission, on Twitter. “Nearly all from overtime and a cop on every corner.”

Who should we blame for that, the cops or the criminals?

The backlash to the “defund” framework also has reached other progressive Bay Area cities. On Tuesday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced plans to restore millions in police funding, rolling back cuts proposed by the city council. The move comes in the wake of a recent spike in crime, including the shooting deaths of a toddler and a former sheriff’s deputy working as a security guard for a television crew.

“There is nothing progressive about unbridled gun violence,” said Schaaf at a press conference announcing her plans.

“Defund the police” may have worked as a radical protest slogan, but it’s been disastrous as political strategy and even worse as public policy. Earlier this year, an Ipsos/USA Today poll found only 18% of Americans supported the idea. If anything, “defund” has been a gift to police unions and the Republican Party, which have wasted no time in using it to smear legitimate reform and tag Democrats as weak on public safety. A nationwide spike in murders has aided these efforts.

The recent robbery sprees also have heightened public concerns over safety. In a poignant example of the problem facing the Bay Area’s progressive leaders, some marijuana dispensary owners are seeking relief from local taxes and an increased police presence to help them survive chronic robberies. Salwa Ibrahim of Cookies Retail in Oakland asked Schaaf to declare a state of emergency after thieves burglarized 25 local cannabis dispensaries the week before Thanksgiving, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

When even the weed stores want more policing, you know something’s gone wrong. (Though after a whole team of SFPD officers sat by idly as burglars hit a cannabis store in The City last week, it’s not clear cops will do much to help.)

American policing needs serious reform. The collapse of the “defund” frame does not change this fact. Police departments must root out racists, killers and other dangerous individuals who abuse the power of their badges to harm our communities. We must also transition away from using police officers in situations (like mental health crises) better handled by different kinds of professionals. In addition, Democrats must do more to invest in communities and address the root causes of crime, including inequality, poverty and racism.

They must also continue to pursue significant police reforms like those adopted in recent years to prevent police violence and punish bad officers. Disappointed “defund” supporters should remember that these changes resulted from strategic efforts to win power and build consensus around sensible policies – not from politically toxic bumper sticker slogans that don’t even fly in San Francisco.

Bay Area pot shops face mob robberies, get little help


Among the more than a dozen smash-and-grab robberies in the Bay Area in recent weeks, cannabis facilities may have been the hardest hit.

In San Francisco, at least four cannabis businesses have been robbed in the last two weeks, according to news reports. At least 20 have been hit in Oakland, where most of the Bay Area’s cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and distribution facilities are located.

“It’s proving to be unbearable for cannabis operators,” said Amber Senter at an Oakland press conference held by cannabis business owners on Monday. Senter owns multiple cannabis business licenses in San Francisco and Oakland, and is also executive director of the industry group Supernova Women. “We need more protection, and we need more funds and resources to improve security, so we can protect ourselves.”

Alarmingly, many of the robberies have turned violent. Oakland Police Chief LeRonne L. Armstrong said in a press conference on November 22 that more than 175 shots were fired during recent cannabis robberies in Oakland this month alone.

Many cannabis business owners say police, both in Oakland and San Francisco, are slow to act. They point to surveillance video made public last week in which police appear to calmly stand by and watch as three suspects steal trash bags full of product from the dispensary BASA, in the North of the Panhandle neighborhood of San Francisco.

Cannabis businesses are a tempting target in part because weed is illegal under federal law. That makes it difficult for business owners to work with banks, most of which operate under federal charters. As a result most cannabis businesses operate in cash, and have at least $10,000 or more in cash on hand. Further, stolen cannabis products are incredibly easy to resell on the unregulated market.

Senter also worries videos like that from BASA make it clear to criminals that cannabis businesses are a particularly easy target. “The police aren’t coming through, even though these people are coming through with guns, using those guns and firing hundreds of rounds. I don’t want to get shot, I don’t want my employees to get shot, and I don’t want my friends and colleagues to get shot.”

At the Monday press conference, owners were quick to point out the robberies come on top of what they consider excessive taxation on cannabis products. Taxes, they say, are supposed to pay for public services, like the police, and they don’t believe they’re getting what they pay for. In Oakland, cannabis businesses are taxed at least 6% on sales, while other retailers are taxed at 0.12%.

“We’re paying all this money for basic government services — 600 to 900 percent more in sales tax, depending on the amount of revenue you generate, than a typical Oakland business,” says Senter. “This means we should have basic protection, right? You would think. But we’re just not getting that.”

The boarded-up storefront at The Green Cross cannabis dispensary following a November robbery attempt. Thieves have targeted the Excelsior District dispensary numerous times over the past year, most recently causing $18,000 in damages to their storefront windows. (Kevin Reed photo)

The boarded-up storefront at The Green Cross cannabis dispensary following a November robbery attempt. Thieves have targeted the Excelsior District dispensary numerous times over the past year, most recently causing $18,000 in damages to their storefront windows. (Kevin Reed photo)

In San Francisco, a cannabis business tax which ranges from 1% to 5% dependent on gross receipts was already once delayed by the Board of Supervisors last year, due to what they considered an increased burden on small businesses amidst the pandemic. On Tuesday, supervisors passed another ordinance by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman of District 8 to suspend the imposition of the city’s Cannabis Business Tax again until Dec. 31, 2022.

The recent ordinance wasn’t originally intended to be a response to the rash of robberies. Rather, it was meant to encourage people to operate within the current regulated cannabis market.

High taxes, many believe, disincentivize illegal operators to join the legal market and customers from buying legal weed. A report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, for example, found that increasing taxes by 10% would result in a 7 to 22% decrease in legal cannabis consumption.

However, suspending the tax coincidentally responds to the call from business owners to lower taxes in the wake of the robberies, which Mandelman now willingly acknowledges.

“Cannabis businesses, along with many other retailers in San Francisco, are struggling under the weight of out-of-control retail theft,” said Mandelman in a press release. “San Francisco needs to do more to protect these businesses, their employees, and their customers before we hit them with a new tax.”


A mother murdered by her son in San Francisco: Did Chesa Boudin do the right thing?


On April 12, 2020, San Francisco police responded to an emergency call about a person in mental distress on the 1300 block of Natoma Street. There, on the back balcony of a blue Victorian apartment building, officers found 29-year-old Daniel Antonio Gudino naked and spattered in blood.

He said his name was Michael and that his sister had put a spell on his mother. Inside the apartment, officers discovered the body of Gudino’s mother, 56-year-old Beatriz “Betty” Mero Gudino. Her killer had used a baseball bat and drill to mutilate her corpse before setting it on fire.

“What did I do to my f——— mom?” Daniel asked after officers cuffed him. “Oh my God.”

He said he’d thought his mother was a clone, not a human.

Last August, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. But the jury deadlocked 7-5 on whether he was legally sane — in favor of insanity. After some wrangling between the prosecution and the defense, District Attorney Chesa Boudin accepted an insanity plea.

Boudin’s decision means the state will incarcerate Daniel in a locked state hospital instead of a prison. The DA’s intervention drew criticism from Brooke Jenkins, the deputy DA assigned to the case. Jenkins told Heather Knight of the San Francisco Chronicle that Boudin’s handling of the case is one reason why she resigned to join the campaign to recall him. She believes the DA should have challenged the insanity plea.

Did Boudin botch this case, or did he do what any other DA might have done in similar circumstances?

Three experts who examined Daniel testified that the crime resulted from severe mental illness, according to court documents. Dr. John Shields testified that Daniel suffered from schizoaffective disorder as well as Capgras syndrome, which is the delusional belief that an impostor has replaced a loved one.

John Gudino, Daniel’s father and Betty’s ex-husband, sees her death as the tragic conclusion of their son’s descent into mental illness. The day before the killing, Gudino said he and Betty talked about the need to hospitalize Daniel, who had struggled with psychotic delusions, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder for years. Their other son, Daniel’s brother, has also been diagnosed with mental illness.

Daniel’s psychotic delusions started spinning out of control in the weeks before Betty’s death.

“We did feel he should have been in the hospital at that time,” said Gudino. “As his mother and father, and knowing the symptoms and what was happening during that time, the paranoia, the delusions … many factors go into realizing his state.”

Gudino said Daniel had stopped taking his medication and was obsessively watching conspiracy theory videos on YouTube. Under normal circumstances, Gudino said, they would have hospitalized him. But with the nation in the middle of a COVID-19 stay-at-home order in the early days of the pandemic, they feared hospitalization might jeopardize his life.

“We both agreed: If it wasn’t for COVID, he’d be in the hospital already,” said Gudino, adding that his son had been put on “5150” emergency psychiatric holds in both 2018 and 2019. “He had all the symptoms to be hospitalized.”

The next morning, on Easter Sunday, Daniel took a shower. While wiping his face with a towel, he later said, he was overwhelmed by the delusion that someone had planted COVID on it. He went into his mother’s room and asked her to call 911.

The situation escalated into a murder so brutal the coroner could not determine an exact cause of death. In this way — and many others — Betty’s death mirrors other cases in which adults kill their parents in the crime known as parricide.

“Parricides are often committed with undue violence and may result in overkill,” according to a recent study published by a group of Italian doctors in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology.

While some cases involve adolescents who murder their parents to escape or to stop abuse, “most adult parricidal offenders have severe and prolonged mental illness,” according to a 2012 study published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Parricide commonly involves mentally ill males aged 18-30 who live with their parents. The violence often occurs after the killers stop taking medication. In some cases, young men in a psychotic state kill while experiencing the delusion that an impostor has replaced their parent.

“So the idea of killing that individual makes sense to the offender because of that particular delusion,” said Dr. Kathleen Heide, a distinguished professor of criminology at the University of Southern Florida and author of “Understanding Parricide.” “The fact that the crime is brutal is often seen in cases of severely mentally ill parricide offenders.”

The phenomenon is rare, but in 2007 the Bay Area experienced what the East Bay Times called “a bizarre spate of parricides.” In three separate cases, young men with histories of mental illness brutally murdered one of their parents.

Illona Solomon, Daniel’s public defender, questioned why Boudin’s office tried to fight the insanity plea.

“It was so obvious that he was insane,” said Solomon. “After killing and mutilating the body and trying to burn the body, he was on the porch screaming about demons and throwing charcoal at the neighbors.”

Should Boudin have intervened sooner?

“In this case, DA Boudin gave the assigned DA wide discretion,” said Rachel Marshall, Boudin’s communications director. “He did intervene when it was clear that the jury had disagreed and had voted 7-5 in favor of insanity. There were three out of four experts who had found him insane … DA Boudin intervened to make the right decision.”

Jenkins vehemently disagrees. She said Daniel had threatened his mother before, and she believes Daniel murdered Betty because he was angry she wouldn’t call 911 to report that someone was trying to poison him.

“I absolutely believe that he was simply angry with her for many years of feeling that she was not the type of mother that he believed she should be,” Jenkins said. “For him, much of the anger was centered around what he considered a lack of response to his call for help.”

Jenkins, who said the Gudino case was her first homicide trial, said the sanity question would have been a close call either way. She believes Daniel suffered from delusions but also understood what he was doing.

“This case could have come down with the jury finding him insane and I would have been fine with that,” Jenkins said in an interview arranged by the recall campaign.

Yet she remains livid that Boudin undermined her work by making an agreement with his former colleagues in the Public Defender’s office and by refusing to speak with Daniel’s stepfather, who opposed the insanity plea.

“You simply can’t ignore the victims in a case,” she said.

John Gudino, who met Betty when they were both teenagers and stayed close to her after their divorce, believes Boudin made the right call.

“Betty fought for both of our sons for years through these mental health issues,” he said. “She would be in support of him, and for him to get the treatment that is needed.”

Gil Duran is Opinion Editor of The San Francisco Examiner: gduran@sfexaminer.com

San Francisco City Hall corruption scandal: New charges against Harlan Kelly, Victor Makras


Federal prosecutors expanded the corruption case against former top San Francisco public utilities official Harlan Kelly on Tuesday to include new bank fraud charges against him and prominent real estate investor Victor Makras.

The new charges stem from a $1.3 million real estate loan that Kelly, the former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, allegedly secured from a company called Quicken Loans, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors say Kelly and Makras conspired to defraud the company by agreeing to falsely inflate the amount Kelly owed Makras for a previous loan. That allowed Kelly to obtain more funding from Quicken Loans at a lower rate.

Kelly then allegedly used the funding to pay off other debts.

The charges are part of a broader FBI investigation into corruption at San Francisco’s City Hall.

This is the second round of charges against Kelly and the first against Makras. Makras is the principal of Makras Real Estate and has sat on various boards including the Port Commission and Public Utilities Commission.

Kelly initially became embroiled in the scandal last November, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged him with fraud for allegedly accepting bribes from businessman and permit expediter Walter Wong.

In the earlier complaint, prosecutors said Wong paid for Kelly and his wife, former City Administrator Naomi Kelly, to take a vacation to China in 2016.

In exchange, Harlan Kelly allegedly used his position to help Wong obtain a lucrative contract to upgrade The City’s streetlights. While Wong did not ultimately win the contract, prosecutors said Kelly smoothed over the bidding process for him.

Those allegations are based in part on statements Wong made to federal authorities. He agreed to cooperate with the investigation when he pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering charges in July 2020.

Both Kelly and his wife have since resigned while maintaining their innocence. Naomi Kelly has not been charged.

“Harlan Kelly is loved by his family, respected by our community, admired by his peers, and has served as a loyal public servant,” his attorney, Brian Getz, wrote in an email to The Examiner. “He has committed no crimes.”

An attorney for Makras did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kelly is due in court today. Wednesday morning. A date for Makras to appear has not been set.


Organized crime rings are driving auto burglaries. SF is offering cash rewards to break them up


San Francisco is taking a new approach to tackling its persistent car break-in problem that haunts residents and sends unsuspecting tourists home, pledging never to return.

Mayor London Breed has announced privately funded cash rewards of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrests and convictions of “high-level leaders” behind the organized auto burglary fencing operations preying on San Francisco.

“We want to be very clear to the organized groups who are responsible for the vast majority of these crimes that we are committing the resources and the manpower to hold you accountable,” Breed said in a statement Tuesday.

Authorities believe that fewer than a dozen car break-in crews are to blame for most of the auto burglaries in the Bay Area.

While car break-ins subsided in San Francisco during the pandemic, the seemingly intractable problem reemerged earlier this year as The City began to reopen and people returned to the streets.

Tourists areas like Fisherman’s Wharf have been hit particularly hard. Now private donors in the hospitality and tourism industry are funding the cash rewards to crack down on the organized crime rings driving the problem.

Sharky Laguana, president of the Small Business Commission, praised the new initiative in a statement.

“The people at the top have been raking in huge sums of money by paying street-level criminals to do all their stealing for them, making working families miserable in the process,” Laguana said. “This initiative is going to help us take these rings apart.”

Car break-ins are currently up nearly 28% over last year in San Francisco with 15,106 incidents reported as of this week, according to police data. Still, the numbers are nowhere near The City’s peak of more than 30,000 break-ins reported in 2017.


Unvaccinated cops force SFPD to reshuffle resources


San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott began reshuffling his department Wednesday, anticipating that as many as 267 unvaccinated officers could be placed on administrative leave if they don’t take the shot.

The moves, intended to shore up public safety, were detailed in a department-wide email obtained Wednesday by The Examiner. The chief said he would transfer 31 officers and 10 sergeants to patrol in case the unvaccinated officers, who represent 13% of the police force, don’t get inoculated. That unvaccinated number includes 180 officers who are on patrol.

While the vaccine mandate for city employees threatens to shrink his force, Scott said public safety won’t be jeopardized.

“The San Francisco Police Department will have the resources necessary to fulfill its duties to preserve the peace and protect the safety and property of those we are sworn to serve,” Scott wrote.

San Francisco imposed a vaccine mandate that requires all city employees to get inoculated by Nov. 1, with some exceptions for religious or medical reasons. The mandate goes into effect sooner for police and other employees who work in high-risk settings, and only have until Oct. 13 to become fully vaccinated. That means Wednesday marked the last day for officers to get their final dose, and become fully vaccinated in time for the deadline.

Officers who remain unvaccinated after the deadline are expected to be placed on paid administrative leave, and could face possible suspension or termination by the chief and Police Commission, according to the Department of Human Resources.

The potential staffing reductions come at a time when the ranks of the San Francisco Police Department are already thinning due to a wave of retirements. In March 2020, a city-commissioned study by an independent firm called Matrix found that the department was short patrol officers. But the police staffing question has always been complicated and has only been thrust further into dispute by calls to defund or abolish the police.

The department currently has 2,122 sworn officers and another 713 administrative employees. In addition to the 267 officers who are unvaccinated, Scott said there are 46 non-sworn employees who have not gotten their shots.

Tracy McCray, vice president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said some of the holdouts want to see more data on the vaccine. The union has proposed frequent testing as an alternative.

“The thought of eliminating police officers is a dream come true for those who want to defund our department,” McCray said. “If The City lost that many officers at one time, you would see an increase in crime without a doubt.”

Police Commission President Malia Cohen said she “wasn’t nervous about having any gaps in the core functions of SFPD.” She did worry that officers being faced with termination would inundate the commission with cases.

“What’s most important here is, SFPD is like a team,” Cohen said. “When officers are holding out on being vaccinated, they are actually hurting the entire team and that is something serious to grapple with.”

Another police commissioner, John Hamasaki, worried about unvaccinated officers continuing to interact with other members of the department and even the public. He asked the chief to come up with a solution in a recent email.

“I think it is important to reassure the public that we aren’t putting anyone in danger,” Hamasaki wrote.

Scott’s redeployment is expected to go into effect over the weekend.

Examiner staff writer Sydney Johnson contributed to this report.