Los Angeles is in the middle of a highly contested race for one of the most powerful law enforcement jobs in the country: the county district attorney. Incumbent Jackie Lacey faces a challenge by former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. The two have different visions for how to lower crime and reform the system.
The lead-up to the November runoff election between them has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak has prompted a wave of changes in law enforcement and there are calls for more.
“Government has a primary duty to protect and promote the health and safety of our community,” says Gascón. “We have an office that generally favors punishment, incarceration, even in low-level offenses, in cases where, quite frankly, those types of approaches do not work, like mental health issues, homelessness, a concrete box doesn't help those people. The pandemic has only really exacerbated this problem.”
The state of California and Los Angeles County have reduced bail for most misdemeanors and low-level felonies to $0 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside correctional facilities. But the Huffington Post reported this week that Jackie Lacey’s office has sought loopholes to request pre-COVID-19 bail amounts for people law enforcement wants to pursue an arrest warrant on. Gascón says that the reports shocked him.
“It puts so many people at risk,” he continues. “It puts people in the criminal justice system at risk, most of the people that are working, the people that are facing potential allegations of criminal activity. It puts our families and puts our community a risk. It just seems to me unconscionable. It seems incomprehensible.”
Gascón says that he believes in ending cash bail for all low-level offenses, and continuing to decrease the county’s jail population. He supports Governor Gavin Newsom facilitating the release of almost 3,500 inmates to mitigate the spread of the virus, and says we should keep up the practice after the end of the pandemic.
“We have gotten to the point where the level of incarceration in this country and certainly in this community before we no longer have a return on our investment, meaning more incarceration is not necessarily causing greater public safety,” he explains. “What we need to make sure is that we create onramps to services. I think that sometimes a low-price hotel room can be a much lower cost solution in terms of the economics of it. I think more importantly, in terms of morality in social justice, absolutely it's a better answer.”
KCRW has invited DA Jackey Lacey for an interview, she declined at this time.