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Kamala Harris: Concerns about my prosecutorial record are "overblown"

Kamala Harris defends her record on crime

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris is defending her record as a local prosecutor and attorney general of California, where critics say she didn't do enough to advance the rights of defendants and protect those in low-income communities.

"The concerns are overblown, yes, no question," Harris said in response to a question from CBS News about whether she thought they were.

Harris served as district attorney of San Francisco before being elected as California's attorney general — the first African American and woman to serve in that post.

"When I became a prosecutor and when I was elected district attorney and also attorney general of California, I implemented some of the most significant reforms to date during those years that had been implemented," Harris said. "I created one of the first reentry initiatives. It became a model. It was designated as a model in the United States for what law enforcement should do to be as I call it, 'smart on crime.'"

Kamala Harris
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, seen April 10, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Getty

Harris also noted her push for reforms in law enforcement, including requiring agents to wear body cameras and to receive training in "implicit bias."

But Harris has faced relentless criticism from younger, liberal corners of the Democratic Party that her record as a prosecutor is not as progressive as she claims. A New York Times op-ed accused her of either staying silent or opposing criminal justice reforms favored by progressives throughout her career. On social media, some derisively refer to her as a "cop."

As San Francisco district attorney, Harris introduced a "Back on Track" program to help low-level drug offenders reenter society. She also defended climate change initiatives and LGBTQ rights.

In her autobiography, "The Truths We Hold," Harris described her fight against for-profit colleges while serving as attorney general of California, including winning a $1.2 billion judgment against now-defunct Corinthian Colleges over its advertising and lending practices.

But some critics have argued that her efforts against truancy unfairly targeted poorer communities. In some cases, parents could be fined up to $2,000 and spend up to one year in jail over their child's school absences. Harris later expressed regret over the policy.

During her tenure as San Francisco district attorney, her office was implicated in violating the rights of various defendants by not sharing damaging information about a police drug lab technician who allegedly stole cocaine from the lab.

Harris drew criticism from the ACLU when she did not support legislation to investigate fatal police-related shootings and opted not to further investigate some potential wrongful conviction cases.

On the day she launched her presidential bid, Harris faced questions about her record. When asked if she had any regrets from her time as a prosecutor, she took broad "responsibility" for the actions of her office.

"The bottom line is the buck stops with me and I take full responsibility for what my office did," she said in January. "There are cases ... where there were folks that made a decision in my office and they had not consulted me and I wish they had."

— Stephanie Ramirez and Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report. 

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