Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday that he is constantly searching for ways to make the community safer just over a year after being sworn into office, but denied that his policies — including a series of directives limiting the length of prison sentences — have led to an increase in homicides and “smash-and-grab” robberies.
“Most crime is down but for homicides and the reality is that we are prosecuting those cases when they get presented to us,” Gascón told reporters at a downtown news conference alongside a group of other prosecutors from throughout the United States who said they support his efforts.
Gascón said he was “not down-playing the fact that homicides are up,” and said the increase must be dealt with effectively.
“There are many complexities to what is going on,” the district attorney said, adding later that prosecutors are “addressing them aggressively” and that criminals are “going to prison” and being “held accountable.”
When asked if his policies bear any responsibility for the higher homicide rate and a rash of “smash-and-grab” robberies,” Gascón responded, “Absolutely not.”
He noted that “as a young cop in 1978 working (the) Hollywood Division, we started having takeover robberies of restaurants. … Years later, we’ve had follow-home robberies that have occurred. We have people that were knocking on doors not long ago and burglarizing homes of people who appeared to have affluence.
“The reality is we go through the cycles and we go through the cycles for a variety of reasons,” the district attorney said, noting that police haven’t presented any potential cases yet to his office involving the “smash-and-grab” robberies.
Soon after taking office last December, Gascón quickly came under fire from some victims and their families, along with the association representing Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys — the latter of which filed a civil lawsuit opposing the directives. He is also facing a renewed recall effort that was announced this week.
Gascón has been criticized by some victims’ family members — including relatives of a Whittier police officer who was murdered in the line of duty — for his directives, including pulling the death penalty as a potential punishment for defendants in some murder cases.
But Gascón contended that the District Attorney’s Office had previously sought the death penalty almost exclusively against people of color, and that people with intellectual disabilities had been sentenced to death. He noted that four of the five people who have subsequently been re-sentenced to life in prison without parole had cognitive or intellectual disabilities.
Desiree Andrade, co-chair of the Recall DA George Gascón campaign, said in a statement issued after the news conference that the district attorney is “completely tone-deaf to the impact his policies are having on victims and public safety,”
“Gascón’s defiance of reality and attempt to double-down on his pro-criminal agenda in the face of out-of-control crime demonstrates the urgency and necessity of removing him from office immediately,” said Andrade, whose son was killed in 2018.
The district attorney countered that the legal system offered victims “one solution” — a long sentence — before he took office, saying the office had “operated towards victims like a factory making widgets.”
“Victims deserve so much more than that,” Gascón said.
The district attorney said his office is taking a “proactive approach to violence prevention,” and that he “constantly” looks for ways to make the community safer and to “avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.”
“The reality is that a punishment-based approach to the work does not serve us well. An eye for an eye is not the way that government should behave, and I want to make sure that the way we do our work is that we provide services for everyone, that we continue to provide the trauma-informed care, both for victims that want more punishment and those who do not …,” he said.
He lauded the office’s accomplishments over the past year, including the filing of criminal cases against 21 law enforcement officers, including one charged with murder, and another 21 people in public corruption cases. He also noted that 77 petitions to transfer the cases of minors to adult court under one of his directives have been withdrawn under his directive to immediately end the practice of sending youths to the adult court system, along with 25 other cases being recalled in which defendants were re-sentenced as juveniles.