George Gascon, the former district attorney for the city and county of San Francisco and a former assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, confirmed Monday he will challenge Jackie Lacey for Los Angeles County District Attorney.
With the Twin Towers jail serving as a backdrop, Gascon told reporters that Los Angeles County places more emphasis on incarcerating people than it does on providing affordable housing.
"I want to bring reform to my hometown," said the 65-year-old Gascon, who began his announcement by recalling what happened when he was stopped by sheriff's deputies as a 17-year-old in East Los Angeles 48 years ago.
"They tore my car apart," Gascon said.
While not referring to the incumbent by name, he said he wants to bring "respect and dignity" to the office so that everyone in the criminal justice system is treated the same "regardless of the color of your skin, regardless of what your past has been."
Gascon said that while Los Angeles County has the largest jail system in the world, if leaders believe they can continue to use incarceration to solve the crime problem, "we are heading in the wrong direction."
Gascon said the cost of keeping people behind bars takes away funds from such other important needs as providing affordable housing. He said that he himself was part of the problem in the 1980s and 1990s while a member of the LAPD.
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"But I evolved," Gascon said. "L.A. is stuck in the 1980s."
Lacey on Monday released a campaign ad, touting what she called her efforts to divert people with mental health issues out of the criminal justice system.
She also released a statement in response to Gascon's announcement, saying, "I'd like to welcome San Francisco's D.A. to Los Angeles County."
"I'm proud of our office's record of fighting for reform while keeping our community safe," Lacey said. "We've implemented a groundbreaking focus on mental health and treatment rather than incarceration, expunged a million minor offenses for poor and struggling residents, cut juvenile hall cases in half and cracked down on sex crimes and human traffickers. I believe it's possible to keep our residents safe and make our justice system fairer at the same time and I am looking forward to having that conversation."
Former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced his support of Gascon's candidacy.
"Taking on the status quo and reforming our most important institutions requires leadership, strength and a commitment to doing the right thing, even when it comes at great personal cost," Beck said in a statement released by Gascon's campaign. "Those are qualities that define George, and I'm excited he's returned home to implement modern policies and practices that are proven to enhance safety and trust."
But the Los Angeles Police Protective League Board of Directors issued a statement blasting Gascon, accusing him of creating "a statewide 'Get Out of Jail Free' program named Proposition 47."
"Once voters take a look at Gascon's dangerous record as District Attorney of San Francisco, they'll be frightened. From his first year in 2011 through 2018, burglaries increased over 20% compared to a 30% statewide decline, larceny increased over 60% in San Francisco yet only rose 4% statewide and thefts from motor vehicles skyrocketed 130%, more than 10 times the statewide increase," the LAPPL statement says.
"Residents of Los Angeles County want safe neighborhoods and they want their criminal justice system to be fair and to continue to hold those that break the law accountable. If someone commits a violent crime, victims want to know that their District Attorney will do more than give the criminal a hug, some milk and cookies and a get out of jail free card. Gascon's 'criminals first' experiment in San Francisco has been an abysmal failure and L.A. County residents can't afford the risk."
Gascon defended his record in San Francisco, saying an increase in population, compounded by the lack of residential garages common in a city of suburbs like Los Angeles, made cars easy targets in San Francisco.
Gascon said the car break-ins were property crimes, but that violent crimes are down in both San Francisco and Los Angeles counties.
Gascon started his law enforcement career as an officer in the LAPD's Hollywood Division and rose to the rank of assistant chief. In 2006, he was named the police chief of Mesa, Arizona, where he clashed with then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio and subsequently testified before Congress about the dangers to community safety posed by local police engaging in immigration enforcement.
In 2009, Gascon was named chief of the San Francisco Police Department. Two years later, he was tapped to be San Francisco's District Attorney -- a job he held for nine years -- when then-District Attorney Kamala Harris vacated her seat to be sworn in as California's attorney general.
Late last year, Gascon announced he would not to seek a third term.
His mother and two daughters live in Los Angeles.