A California district attorney is requiring her prosecutors to consider looters’ “needs” when weighing criminal charges against them.
The new mandate, set forth by Contra Costa District Attorney Diane Becton, makes it tougher to prosecute looting cases in the county, which sits just outside San Francisco.
Investigators must now consider “was this theft offense substantially motivated by the state of emergency, or simply a theft offense which occurred contemporaneously to the declared state of emergency?” according to the policy reported by local outlet East County Today.
In making that determination, they must also consider five other factors, including “was the theft committed for financial gain or personal need?”
The new policy comes amid the swell of protests, looting and riots in wake of police-involved shootings of black people across the country.
Becton, a 22-year judge in Contra Costa County who was elected as DA in 2017, is the county’s first female and African American to serve as the county’s chief law enforcement officer.
Her new policy drew strong rebukes from Antioch Mayor Sean Wright and the president of the Antioch police union.
“When I read the policy, it was disturbing,” Wright told East County Today. “I understand the difference between protesting and looting. Peaceful protesting is okay, looting is not.
“For the District Attorney to put out that kind of plan is irresponsible and where do you exactly draw the line on need because these are people’s businesses that are being impacted and livelihoods that are being destroyed.”
Steve Aiello, the president of the Antioch Police Officers Association, called the guidelines “reckless,” saying they hurt the “community, local business and business owners.”
“It shows the District Attorney’s Office is picking and choosing the types of crimes it will prosecute versus just following the laws on the books,” he said. “At what point does our District Attorney’s Office advocate for the victims. If it’s not the District Attorney’s Office, who then becomes the advocate and safety net for the victims and ensuring restitution is made.”
DA spokesman Scott Alonso said the new policy was put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic and noted that the office has no recent evidence of prosecuting looters during a state of emergency.
“As you know, when evaluating any criminal case our prosecutors look at the circumstances surrounding the incident,” Alonso told East County Today. “These guidelines are consistent with how we evaluate criminal cases. The policy does not say we won’t file these types of cases.”
Looting carries a sentence of one year in county jail.
Becton recently penned an opinion piece for Politico magazine, along with four other DAs who are black women — Satana Deberry in Durham County, North Carolina; Kim Gardner in St. Louis, Missouri; Kim Foxx in Cook County, Illinois and Rachael Rollins in Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
The article consists of 11 pieces of criminal justice reform which they say are designed to fix a “flawed system” that wrongly targets black people and people of color.