When An Unqualified 29-year-old Became Public Safety Commissioner

Nika Soon-Shiong’s father bought the LA Times. Then she got appointed as a public safety commissioner in West Hollywood, despite having no background at all in criminal justice. While there, she reduced the number of deputies on the street before quitting early to return to graduate school.

Who is Nika Soon-Shiong?

Nika Soon-Shiong grew up wealthy. She is the daughter of Patrick Soon-Shiong the publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Her father became rich after inventing a drug called Abraxane.

Soon-Shiong is extremely well educated. She graduated from Stanford in 2011 with a bachelor of arts in international relations. Soon-Shiong’s resume is silent as to what she did between 2011 and 2014. She began 2014 as an intern at the Estafani Center in Cape Town. She also spent the summer of 2014 in Cape Town, doing a research project for Stanford around individuals affected by HIV, presumably as part of a master program. She spent the summer of 2015 at the New York State Summer Writers Institute, a fiction workshop. She received her masters in African studies, in 2016. As I read her resume, I became increasingly curious about when her interest in criminal justice began.

After getting her masters, she was the “Princeton in Africa Fellow” for a year. This job entailed producing a podcast, photography exhibition, and photo-essay showcasing public school conditions. After a year in this role, she continued doing research on South African public schools until the end of 2017. There is no indication of any work related to criminal justice.

Sooh-Shiong enrolled in a doctoral program at Oxford in 2018. While there she worked as a “consultant” for the president of the World Bank. One of her duties was writing “speeches and media posts” for him. According to her resume, Oxford gave her a doctorate in philosophy in 2019, in international development. Interestingly, she said in a 2022 interview that she had not completed her doctorate. Local media report that she was working on her thesis and returned when the pandemic struck.

When she arrived back in Los Angeles she took an active role in her father’s newsroom. For example, she banned the use of the word “looting” to describe theft by protesters of the murder of George Floyd. She is 29 years old.

Nika Soon-Shiong Has No Qualifications for a Job in Criminal Justice

It might seem provocative so say that a public safety commissioner has literally no background in criminal justice, but if it cannot be said about Nika Soon-Shiong, it cannot be said about anyone. She grew up extremely, superlatively rich, with all the benefits it implies. She has never lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood, and therefore has less lived experience than literally hundreds of thousands of people in the County of Los Angeles.

Her education is completely unrelated to criminal justice, criminology, penology, or any related field. Nor does she have a law degree, much less experience handling a criminal case.

During her education, she found time to host a podcast and attend a fiction workshop, but did not work anywhere near the criminal justice system. She has no background in law enforcement. Although nothing was preventing her from completing the LASD Explorer Program, volunteering as a reserve deputy, or even working as a peace officer, she has not done any of those things. Certainly, she has no experience in any of the many public sector jobs that might prepare a person for the public safety commission.

The one thing that might qualify someone to be in a position of public trust is the ability to run a successful business. That’s a general skill that can be applied to almost any job. Making money is the simplest, most obvious proof that you have general business administration skills. But again, Soon-Shiong did not make her money. It was simply given to her by her father.

The public safety commission job was also just given to her. She was appointed by City Councilmember Lindsay Horvath, despite her having no background, training, or experience in criminal justice.

Nika Soon-Shiong Defunded the Police

In 2022, Soon-Shiong led West Hollywood to decrease the amount of their policing budget. The net result is five fewer deputies on the streets. She did this despite reliable and recent data showing that hiring more police reduces crime. According to this data, reducing a police force by five officers leads to one additional murder every two years. It also reduces other more common crimes like robbery, rape, and aggravated assault. Moreover, additional police result in Black lives saved at about twice the rate of white lives saved.

Meanwhile, West Hollywood’s crime rate shot up 38% in the past year.

Then, in August, she resigned as public safety commissioner, despite the fact that her term was not over until February of 2023.

It’s No Surprise That A Well-Meaning Heiress Misunderstands Criminal Law

Well-meaning people have weakened our criminal justice system in the last decade. Kind people go wrong because they are focusing on the wrong problems or because they have been misled about the solutions. All of us, inherently, want to believe that rehabilitation is all that is needed to prevent crime and change criminals back in to normal neighbors. We want to believe this despite knowing, since 1974, that “Nothing Works” to rehabilitate an unwilling prisoner. And virtually all prison inmates do not want to rehabilitate. The only tools we are left with are deterrence and incapacitation. If rehabilitation is the carrot then these are the sticks. It is difficult for kind, well-meaning people to accept this and act on it.

At the same time, none of us relish the idea of locking up another human being for a long period of time. It’s easy to direct our natural human sympathy at the criminal defendant: after all, he is there in court, there in jail, easy to see. While the victim usually isn’t there, can’t be seen, and sometimes there is no one victim at all. California state prisoners stole $400 million in COVID relief, for example. Since there was no single victim, it’s easy to think that there was no victim at all. Even though those prisoners sold all of the tax paid by 165,906 households, how do you know if it’s your taxes they stole? It’s as if the entire City of Pasadena‘s taxes floated away without so much as a sharpened pencil to show for it. The absent victim, or the institutional victim, present a trap for compassionate people, who direct their sympathy at the only person in front of them: the criminal defendant.

It takes education, training, and experience to understand these things. But that is exactly what Nika Soon-Shiong and others do not have. They see news coverage that leads to them to believe that there is an epidemic of police brutality. They read books telling them that prison is a new racial caste system. They believe that the United States participates in a racialized “mass incarceration” because of our prison populations. None of these things are true. But people are easy to mislead when they have no inkling of the way the system actually works. You would expect a public safety commissioner to be the kind of person to have an inkling. But in the case of Nika Soon-Shiong, and so many others in similar positions, you’d be wrong.

Soon Shiong has been compared to Ivanka Trump: both are rich heiresses in positions of public trust without any qualifications to serve. They have different political views, but they are two sides of the same coin. Many of us felt that Ivanka Trump had no business in the White House. She didn’t know what she was doing and hadn’t earned it. Applying this same rule to Nika Soon-Shiong yields the same result. She doesn’t know what she is doing and doesn’t belong there. West Hollywood, like everyone else, deserves high quality public servants, not dilettantes or the spoiled rich.

At the end of the day, Nika Soon-Shiong is gone, and so are those West Hollywood deputies.

Notes

Predictably, Soon-Shiong’s allies accused her opponents of racism. This led to a lot of distracting outrage all around and didn’t keep anyone safe.

If Nika Soon-Shiong is 29, as reported by LA Magazine, and graduated from Stanford in 2011, as she wrote on her resume, then she would have graduated at age 18. If she studied 4 years, she would have enrolled at 14. That seems possible, but odd.

Featured image credit: LA Magazine.

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