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After 1998, while Willie Brown was San Francisco's mayor, she became managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, a small unit with a staff of three. Shortly thereafter, Harris demoted veteran career prosecutor Paul Cummins, chief assistant to her predecessor, from the 80-prosecutor felony prosecution unit to Harris's former low position in the DA's office.In 2000, San Francisco's elected City Attorney Louise Renne recruited Harris to join her office, where she was chief of the Community and Neighborhood Division, which oversees civil code enforcement matters. Cummins was widely regarded by the police department, further hurting its relationship with Harris. A., Harris started a program that gives first-time drug dealers the chance to earn a high school diploma and find employment.

On November 8, 2016, she defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to succeed outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer, becoming California's third female U. Senator and the first of Jamaican or Indian descent.Both of California's United States Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, endorsed Harris during the Democratic Party primary.In the primary, she faced Chris Kelly, former Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook; Assemblyman Alberto Torrico; Assemblyman and former military prosecutor Ted Lieu; Assemblyman Pedro Nava; Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles; and Mike Schmier.She was extremely close to her maternal grandfather, P. Gopalan, an Indian diplomat, Harris served as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California, from 1990 to 1998.Harris says she sought a career in law enforcement because she wanted to be "at the table where decisions are made." In 1993, she started dating California Speaker of the Assembly, Willie Brown, who introduced her to many powerful individuals in the California and Sacramento political and campaign management establishment.Harris created a special Hate Crimes Unit as San Francisco District Attorney.She focused on hate crimes against LGBT children and teens in schools.The San Francisco DA's incarceration rates were among the lowest in the entire state of California—fully ten times lower than in San Diego County, for example.According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "roughly 4 of every 100 arrests resulted in prison terms in San Francisco, compared with 12.8 out of 100 in Alameda County, 14.4 of 100 in Sacramento County, 21 of 100 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, 26.6 of 100 in Fresno County, 38.7 of 100 in Los Angeles County and 41 of 100 in San Diego County." While officers within the SFPD credited Harris with tightening loopholes in bail and drug programs that defendants had exploited in the past, they also accused her of being too deliberate in her prosecution of murder suspects.That meant that out of the 73 homicide cases backlogged, 32 cases took deals for lesser charges such as manslaughter or took pleas to other crimes such as assault or burglary while the murder charges were dismissed.However, critics argue that San Francisco sends fewer people to jail per arrest than other counties throughout the state.

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