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Numbers Game: Los Angeles District Attorney Candidates Spar Over Crime Stats

Numbers Game: Los Angeles District Attorney Candidates Spar Over Crime Stats

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles on Dec. 8, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Beige Luciano-Adams

Beige Luciano-Adams

2/27/2024

Updated: 2/27/2024

Challengers in the crowded and contentious primary race for Los Angeles County district attorney have been pummeling incumbent George Gascón for being “soft on crime.”
On the defensive, Mr. Gascón has pointed to a citywide drop in violent crime—more than 3 percent from 2022 to 2023, according to the Los Angeles Police Department—as proof that his progressive reforms are working.
But his challengers—Mr. Gascón faces 11 contenders in the March 5 primary, for which voting is already underway—have said that a broader look at the data tells a different story.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami pointed out that there have been 1,111 homicides during Mr. Gascón’s tenure from 2021 through 2023, compared with 798 during his predecessor Jackie Lacey’s time in office.
“Just looking at one year, yes, violent crime has dropped from last year to this year,“ Mr. Hatami told The Epoch Times. ”But looking at Gascón’s overall record, it’s not very good.”
Jonathan Hatami. (Courtesy of Hatami for District Attorney 2024)

Jonathan Hatami. (Courtesy of Hatami for District Attorney 2024)

Former federal prosecutor Nathan Hochman, who has so far polled third behind Mr. Hatami and Mr. Gascón, released a statement on Feb. 26 accusing the district attorney of manipulating crime statistics at a January debate when he said, “We have seen crime coming down ... at the same time we have continued with the reform effort.”
Homicides were at a 15-year high in 2022, Mr. Hochman told The Epoch Times.
“So [Gascón] basically says, ‘In 2023 we’re doing better, we’re not at a 15-year high ... and therefore, my policies are terrific.’ But I would argue every year should be compared to the year before you got into office,” he said.
Violent crime was significantly higher in 2023 than in 2020—Mr. Gascón was sworn in on Dec. 7, 2020—and property crimes have increased every year of his term, by a total of 24 percent, and shoplifting is up 81 percent over the past year alone, Mr. Hochman said.
During a campaign debate last month, Mr. Gascón said the work his office has started in Los Angeles is beginning to show results.
“One of the biggest problems we have in our system is the inequality of the high levels of recidivism that are the result of a lot of the work people on this stage have engaged in for years that has created one of the highest incarceration rates in the world,” he said. “We’re showing we can hold people accountable and we can be safe at the same time.”
Representatives for Mr. Gascón’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

Beyond Statistics

Steve Cooley, a former Los Angeles County district attorney and another prominent critic of Mr. Gascón, referenced a saying about the nature of statistics. “There are three types of lies,” he told The Epoch Times. “Lies, damn lies, and oftentimes, statistics.”
Among crime statistics, he pointed to homicide as being the most reliable, with others often skewed when people lose faith in the system and stop reporting, or when legislation changes how the federal government collects data.
Some areas of the county have been hit harder by violent crime, specifically by an increase in homicides or shootings.
Residents of Lynwood, for example—a city near South Los Angeles, a hotspot for illegal street takeovers and where violent crime and robbery are on an upward swing—may have a very different experience from that of residents of Brentwood or other affluent areas.
Nathan Hochman. (Courtesy of Nathan Hochman for LA District Attorney 2024)

Nathan Hochman. (Courtesy of Nathan Hochman for LA District Attorney 2024)

“If you actually look within the data,” Mr. Hochman told The Epoch Times, “violent crime is significantly up in low-income communities more than affluent communities.”
The LAPD’s San Fernando Valley Division through mid-February has reported nine homicides—during the same period last year, there were four homicides. The division has also reported 44 shooting victims so far through the same period in 2024, compared with 19 in the same period last year.
When two-thirds of polled Angelenos say they feel less safe today than when Mr. Gascón took office, Mr. Hochman argued “that is a combination of them living in these communities and watching crime at all levels rise in the last three years.”
Los Angeles additionally has the nation’s largest homeless population, and the spiraling crisis, along with the fentanyl epidemic, has led to a sharp increase in mortality rates among homeless residents, with an average of six deaths per day, according to Los Angeles Medical Examiner provisional data, driven largely by overdoses and homicides.
Homicides among homeless Angelenos increased by 49 percent from 2020 to 2021, the most recent year for which county public health data are available.
And residents in neighborhoods throughout the county where dangerous homeless encampments have become larger and made sidewalks unsafe—or inaccessible—won’t see their reality reflected or explained in annual citywide statistics.
More uniformly, property crime has skyrocketed across the county, and Los Angeles has led the nation in organized retail theft for the past five years.
“Most people in Los Angeles feel that we’re less safe than we were four years ago,” Mr. Hatami said. “They feel that they can’t wear a watch or wear jewelry. They can’t walk their kids to school. They can’t go to the mall and go shopping. They can’t pump gas or walk outside at night, open the trunk of their car. They can’t go jogging, and they can’t use public transportation because they’re scared.”
He said that not all of that is Mr. Gascón’s fault but that his policies have played a big role, adding that the city has had “a lawless society” in the past three years.

‘Soft-on-Crime’ Policies to Blame

Across the state, some district attorneys have blamed California’s crime spike on parole reform and legislation such as Proposition 47—the 2014 measure co-authored by Mr. Gascón that reduces most drug possession and property theft crimes under $950 from felonies to misdemeanors.
Los Angeles County in late 2023 implemented a controversial zero-bail policy, ending the prior cash bail system for all but the most serious crimes.
“During the last year we have so many people committing so many thefts and then they just get arrested and released [over and over again] because of zero bail,” Mr. Hatami said.
Police officers search for a suspect in Los Angeles on May 7, 2018. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Police officers search for a suspect in Los Angeles on May 7, 2018. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Both Mr. Hochman and Mr. Hatami lamented that Proposition 47 took away law enforcement’s ability to use drug court to try to get people with substance abuse disorders who commit crimes into a mandated program as an alternative to prison.
“If they were looking at state prison, that could be a wake-up call, and for many of them it was, to go through a very rigorous 18-month program,” Mr. Hochman said.
Mr. Cooley noted a variety of factors that tend to affect crime rates, but it’s the district attorney’s job to make sure criminals are behind bars.
“It’s not just the DA, it’s the system, the judges, the police, the prosecutors, and the citizens supposed to report crime,” he said. “All of that contributes. But the significant thing to realize is the DA is the lynchpin of the criminal justice system. If they don’t do his or her job, then courts can’t do their job in terms of sentencing.”
A December 2022 study by researchers at the University of Toronto examining the relationship between reformist DAs and crime rates noted the disparate patterns in cities across LA County and concluded that “policies of the prosecutor do not have a direct relationship to lethal violence.”
But Mr. Hochman said that’s misleading, pointing to examples such as Mr. Gascón’s office’s handling of high-profile cases such as that of Justin Flores, the man who killed two El Monte police officers while on probation. Mr. Flores was sentenced in 2021 to 20 days in jail and two years probation after pleading no contest to a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Prosecutors dismissed two related drug counts.
In honor of two El Monte police officers killed in a recent motel shooting, hundreds of community members, law enforcement officers, and family members gathered at a candlelight vigil outside the El Monte Civic Center in El Monte, Calif., on June 18, 2022. (Linda Jiang/The Epoch Times)

In honor of two El Monte police officers killed in a recent motel shooting, hundreds of community members, law enforcement officers, and family members gathered at a candlelight vigil outside the El Monte Civic Center in El Monte, Calif., on June 18, 2022. (Linda Jiang/The Epoch Times)

“He got time served on probation, which allowed him to be in a hotel room that night. So when the officers responded to this guy beating up his girlfriend, he shot them dead, then shot himself dead,” Mr. Hochman said. “The mothers of the two El Monte police officers say, ‘Gascón killed our sons.’ And they’re absolutely right.”
An unprecedented 37 cities in LA County voted “no confidence” in Mr. Gascón in 2021 and 2022, Mr. Hatami noted, because he wasn’t charging people with misdemeanors—including resisting arrest, disturbing the peace, public drunkenness, solicitation for prostitution, indecent exposure, possession of meth, possession of fentanyl, aggravated trespass, and criminal threats.
Mr. Gascón’s tenure has been controversial from the start. He immediately implemented promised reforms when he took office, effectively ending cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, gang and repeat-offense sentencing enhancements, and prosecuting juveniles as adults.
Backlash has included a lawsuit from the union representing prosecutors in his office that argued he can’t bar the use of enhancements under the state’s “three strikes law” and two high-profile recall efforts that failed to get on the ballot.
Farida Baig, whose father, Shahid Ali Baig, was murdered in 1980, speaks at a press conference by supporters of an effort to recall Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, in Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2021. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Farida Baig, whose father, Shahid Ali Baig, was murdered in 1980, speaks at a press conference by supporters of an effort to recall Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, in Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2021. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Recent polling by USC Dornsife/Price Center shows Mr. Gascón leading with 15 percent, followed by Mr. Hatami at 8 percent and Mr. Hochman at 4 percent; 64 percent of voters are still undecided.
The other candidates in the race are Jeff Chemerinksy, Maria Ramirez, Debra Archuleta, Eric Siddall, Dan Kapelovitz, Lloyd “Bobcat” Masson, John McKinney, David Milton, and Craig Mitchell.
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Beige Luciano-Adams

Beige Luciano-Adams

Author

Beige Luciano-Adams is an investigative reporter covering Los Angeles and statewide issues in California. She has covered politics, arts, culture, and social issues for a variety of outlets, including LA Weekly and MediaNews Group publications. Reach her at beige.luciano@epochtimesca.com and follow her on X: https://twitter.com/LucianoBeige

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