Kamala Harris on Crime

Democratic candidate for President; California Senator


Ex-felons re-enter society, instead of broken justice system

We need our leaders to speak truth about climate change and about our broken criminal justice system.

We need an America where no mother or father has to teach their son that people may stop him or kill him because of the color of his skin.

The strength of our union is in our diversity and our unity. We see the State of our Union in the formerly incarcerated individual who re-enters society looking to contribute and in the DREAMer who pursues her future in the face of uncertainty.

Source: Democratic prebuttal to the 2019 State of the Union speech , Feb 5, 2019

Progressive prosecutor: fix broken criminal justice system

Before her 2016 victory in the Senate race, Harris made her career in law enforcement. Harris is likely to face questions about her law enforcement record, particularly after the Black Lives Matter movement and activists across the country pushed for a criminal justice overhaul. Harris's prosecutorial record has recently come under new scrutiny after a blistering opinion piece in The New York Times criticized her repeated claim that she was a "progressive prosecutor," focused on changing a broken criminal justice system from within.

Harris addressed her law enforcement background in her book. She argued it was a "false choice" to decide between supporting the police and advocating for greater scrutiny of law enforcement. She wrote, "When activists came marching & banging on the doors, I wanted to be on the other side to let them in."

Harris supported legislation that passed the Senate last year that overhauled the criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to sentencing rules.

Source: Juana Summers in Time Magazine on 2020 Presidential Hopefuls , Jan 21, 2019

Don't require cops to wear body cameras

Joining fellow law enforcement officials, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said she doesn't believe there should be statewide standards regulating the use of body-worn cameras by police officers: "I as a general matter believe that we should invest in the ability of law enforcement leaders in specific regions and with their departments to use discretion to figure out what technology they are going to adopt based on needs that they have and resources that they have. I don't think we can have a one-size-fits-all approach to this," she said.

Harris, whose own department is the first statewide agency to adopt a body camera program, waded into an issue that has sparked intense debate at the Capitol. One measure, Assembly Bill 66, has undergone several revisions to permit police officers in most jurisdictions to review footage captured on the cameras before giving a report of an incident involving force.

Source: Sacramento Bee coverage of 2016 California Senate race , May 27, 2015

Acknowledge that certain communities distrust police

Use of the body-worn camera equipment was thrust into the national dialogue following a string of officer-involved incidents, many involving young African Americans. Harris has established a new training protocol for law enforcement that focuses on "implicit bias" and related issues. Harris said there needs to be broader acknowledgment that certain communities distrust law enforcement.

"We have a history in this country that we can be proud of and then there's a part of the history that we are not proud of," Harris said, adding, "But we also have to acknowledge that the relationship of trust is a reciprocal relationship, and everyone has a responsibility to be a part of leading that effort."

Source: Sacramento Bee coverage of 2016 California Senate race , May 27, 2015

Imprison violent criminals, not the non-violent

For several decades, tough laws and long sentences have created the illusion that public safety is best served when we treat all offenders the same way: arrest, convict, incarcerate, and hope they somehow learn their lesson. But the majority of prisoners are serving time for nonviolent offenses--what I call the base of the "crime pyramid." At the top of the pyramid are the most serious and violent crimes, which are committed far less often but should demand most of our attention in law enforcement. At the base of the pyramid are the vast majority of crimes committed, which are nonviolent & nonserious.

Crime is not a monolith. Instead of a one-size-fits-all justice system, [we must] focus on the top of the pyramid and avoid treating all offenders the same. This approach has three pillars: maintain a relentless focus on reducing violence and prosecuting violent criminals, identify key points in the lives of young offenders to stop the escalation of criminal behavior, and support victims of crime.

Source: Brennan Center for Justice essays, p. 37-8 , Apr 28, 2015

Make fighting transnational gangs a top priority

Attorney General Kamala Harris has made fighting transnational gangs a top priority to securing safe communities across California. Transnational gangs are a serious public safety threat in California. Their crimes--from drug dealing to gun violence to premeditated murder--cross international borders into California and reverberate throughout the state. As the state's chief law enforcement officer, public safety is Attorney General Harris' most important priority. As a result, she has dedicated law enforcement resources to fight transnational gangs operating throughout the state and to take the guns, drugs, and violence they bring to our communities.

Within her first 100 days in office, the Attorney General brought law enforcement leaders from across the state to California's border with Mexico to see firsthand the everyday problems that transnational gangs cause--the smuggling of guns, drugs and human beings across the border.

Source: 2014 Attorney General campaign website KamalaHarris.org , Nov 1, 2014

Personally opposed to death penalty; as DA, never pursued it

While Harris has argued that she has always been personally opposed to the death penalty, some media sources questioned whether she altered her position in the run-up to election in 2010. Though she stated in her 2004 inaugural address as San Francisco's District Attorney that she would never charge the death penalty, when asked during her campaign for attorney general if there would ever be a time when she would seek the death penalty, she answered, "We take each case on a case by case basis, and I'll make decisions on each case as they arise."

The Chris Kelly campaign, in an effort to emphasize the San Francisco DA's refusal to enforce the law, released a video that shows Harris telling an astonished reporter for the local KTVU news station that "she had never seen a case that merited pursuing the death penalty during her time as District Attorney."

Source: Ballotpedia.org coverage of 2016 California Senate race , Jan 30, 2004

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Page last updated: Mar 15, 2019