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Criminal Justice

Amid Crime Rise, DA Gascón Defends Policies During First Year In Office

District Attorney George Gascón, wearing a sports coat and blue dress shirt open at the collar, delivers remarks in front of microphone. Two men wearing suits and a law enforcement officer in uniform (partially shown) stand behind him.
L.A. District Attorney George Gascón marked one year in office at a press conference today.
(Justin Sullivan
Getty Images)
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L.A. District Attorney George Gascón gathered reporters Wednesday to tout the accomplishments of his first year in office and ended up facing a barrage of questions about whether his policies were contributing to an increase in crime, including homicides and high profile smash-and-grab and follow-home robberies.

Gascón — who took office on Dec. 7, 2020 — believes the criminal justice system is too punitive and has sought shorter prison sentences for most people. He’s also declined to file charges in 13 categories of low-level misdemeanors, including driving on a suspended license, drug and paraphernalia possession, and public intoxication.

The DA said his policies have nothing to do with the crime rise, pointing out that it began before he took office and is happening around the country.

“Let’s be grounded in reality because fear-mongering and misinformation doesn’t enhance public safety,” he said.

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You can join me (virtually) this evening at 7 p.m. as I have a one-on-one conversation with Gascón about his first year in office. RSVP here.

The DA’s critics, who have begun a second effort to recall him from office, claim in part that he’s emboldened people to commit crimes because of his more lenient approach.

“That’s a theoretical argument,” said University of Pennsylvania Law Professor David Abrams, who has researched crime trends. But practically “it would be hard to blame” the DA for an increase that’s happening in almost every major city, he said.

“As we work to define what it means to be a 21st century prosecutor, I have and always will put public safety first,” Gascón told reporters. He said his office filed 51% of felony cases presented to his office by police over the past year, compared with his predecessor's 53% last year and 56% in 2019.

The big drop is in the number of sentencing enhancements Gascón has filed — 99% in gang allegations and 63% in gun allegations for the first half of this year compared with the averages during the first six months of the previous nine years.

At the beginning of his news conference, the DA asked for a moment of silence for victims of violent crime, including Alexander Alvarado, 12, who was murdered in Wilmington this week, and Jacqueline Avant, the 81-year-old philanthropist killed in Beverly Hills last week. The suspect in Avant’s murder served two terms in prison for robbery, including one in which he inflicted great bodily injury. He was last released in September.

“The suspect in the Avant case has served at least two sentences for robbery in prison,” Gascón said, “but as far as we can see, he never received any meaningful interventions that may have helped him send his life on a different path.”

He added: “When we invest in the people who are in prison, we are investing in public safety and stopping future victimization before it happens.”

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In an unusual move, more than a dozen prosecutors from around the country who agree with Gascón’s agenda attended the news conference.

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