Los Angeles DA Gascon defends policy reforms, fends off critics

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon marked the end of his first year in office by defending his criminal justice reform efforts at a news conference and saying he is not responsible for rising homicides and the recent rash of smash-and-grab robberies.

Gascon, flanked by more than a dozen district attorneys from other states, addressed the media, saying the so-called "tough-on-crime approach failed."

"We are trying to dramatically change a system that has served no one, not the victims of crime, not those who are accused and not the public," Gascon said.

When he took office in 2020, Gascon issued a special directive that prevents prosecutors in his office from seeking the death penalty, sentencing enhancements or cash bail in non-violent cases.

That quickly drew widespread criticism as a blanket policy that coddled criminals and ignored victims.

This year, homicides, violent crimes and auto theft are rising and Gascon is facing a second recall.

One of his own deputy district attorneys, Jon Hatami, has been an outspoken critic of the new policies.

"George Gascon's policies have not worked," Hatami told Eyewitness News. "Releasing criminals, not charging crime does not work in Los Angeles. And it's not making anybody any safer."

A recent rash of mob-like robberies has shocked Southern California residents. Security cameras caught large groups of looters breaking into stores and stealing merchandise.

Local leaders have placed the blame on the current "zero bail" policies designed to keep inmate numbers down during the pandemic.

Gascon has caught a lot of that blame but the district attorney said the cases never make it to his office, that the suspects are released before the paperwork ever reaches his staff.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore has said the court system and judges are releasing the suspects, and that Gascon is not the problem.

"DA Gascon and I spoke just as recently as Friday and he assured me he will hold criminal offenders, violent criminal offenders, accountable," Moore said Wednesday.

One law enforcement leader not satisfied with Gascon's policies is Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who's been a consistent critic and supports efforts to recall Gascon.

"It's been an absolute disaster for the community," Villanueva said referring to Gascon's first year in office. "It's been a disaster for public safety. It's been a disaster for law enforcement."

But Gascon says his office is working to make the criminal justice system more efficient and more equitable. Criticism that he is soft on crime, he says, is unfounded and his office is charging roughly the same amount of cases as past administrations.

"We're trying really hard to use the science that is currently available, the data that is currently available, to do our work," Gascon said. "And I'm not going to be intimidated by political rhetoric."

Copyright © 2022 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved.