Much of the debate focused on Gascón's progressive policies and the rise in crime.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (KABC) -- The primary is several months away, and many eyes are on the race to replace Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.
For the first time, he faced off against seven challengers during a debate Tuesday night hosted by the Santa Monica Democratic Club. The event featured the race's Democratic candidates, including Los Angeles Superior Court judges Craig Mitchell and Debra Archuleta, deputy district attorneys Maria Ramirez, John McKinney, Jonathan Hatami, and Eric Siddall, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Chemerinsky.
Former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hochman said he wasn't invited because he is running as an independent.
"Los Angeles has become less safe over the last three years," said Mitchell.
Gascón was elected in 2020 over incumbent Jackie Lacey as he promised a wave of reforms. But once some of those reforms were being implemented, there was a sharp backlash from the public, tying those changes to an increase in crime in the region.
"Yes, crime is up," said McKinney as he spoke to the crowd. "That's why you're all here tonight. That's why you're looking at the district attorney's race, five months in advance."
Much of the debate focused on Gascón's progressive policies.
"I think people need to feel confident that the law's working for them, that the law's being applied fairly and justly, that's it's being applied and people are being held accountable. We've lost that sense of confidence," said Chemerinsky.
"We see the failure of these policies every day," said Siddal. "We see them on the streets; we see them in the courtroom. There is a way of reforming our system, of making it better, but also keeping you safe."
Ramirez blamed Gascón's "refusal to prosecute."
"The reason that you don't feel safe today is because the current district attorney refuses to prosecute crimes, refuses to use the enhancements that the legislature has given us," she said.
Gascón has already survived one recall attempt and there may be another next year. At one point, an attendee booed him as he spoke.
"The reality is that having thoughtful policies that hold people accountable, as we have, sending people to prison when they need to be locked up, but recognizing that prison cannot be the only one answer is what public safety is all about," he said.
Mental health and the city's homeless crisis were two other hot topics, but growing crime was the main focus.
"He wants to sit up here and argue that crime statistics are down," said Archuleta. "That might be because he has over 13,000 cases sitting on his desk that have not yet been filed."
"The 'number one' of the DA is to make sure that all of you are safe, and to make sure that if somebody commits a crime, they're prosecuted for it and they're held accountable and responsible for that," said Hatami, who was the prosecutor in the child abuse murder trials of Gabriel Fernandez and Anthony Avalos.
The primary is in march and the top two finishers as long as a candidate doesn't get more than 50% of the vote, regardless of their political party, will move on to the runoff in November of next year.