UPDATE: MAY 5, 2021 – The City of Covina has become the latest to pass a resolution expressing “no confidence” in District Attorney George Gascón, following a three-to-one vote at last night’s meeting of the Covina City Council.
The symbolic resolution, similar to ones previously passed by several other cities within Los Angeles County, stems from controversy over the new DA’s criminal justice reform efforts. In particular, directives from the DA to not prosecute certain low-level offensives and not apply sentencing enhancements.
“Last night, our council voted to communicate with our District Attorney in a public and direct way. I know that our council voice may be lost in the bigger discussions taking place, but I and my colleagues are hearing concern, fear, and anger from our community around Mr. Gascón’s directives,” Covina City Councilman John King told Los Angeles. “Our action has no immediate impact other than to give voice to those that are fearful that Gascón’s directives will continue to erode the quality of life in our communities.”
At the meeting, council members heard from members of the public and local police, and had an opportunity to question a representative for the DA.
“Covina believes in having a quality of life for citizens,” Councilman Walter Allen III said during the session, mentioning issues in Covina including public defecation, drug sales, and graffiti. “Our citizens don’t like the idea of these so-called ‘lightweight misdemeanors’ not being filed by our police department.”
Gascón spokesman Max Szabo responded by stating that, while he understood the concern over those “quality of life” issues in the community, criminal prosecution may not be the best solution to every dispute.
“We would be foolish to think that the criminal justice system and applying criminal convictions to low-level behavior–which precludes people from employment and housing opportunities and is also a primary driver of recidivism–is not exacerbating our homeless epidemic,” Szabo said.
Szabo used his time addressing the council members to discuss DA Gascón’s intentions behind the reform directives.
“If safety is truly a priority, review the available research, which actually shows that these directives enhance safety. Review surveys of victims of crime that show that the majority of victims of crime–by huge margins–prefer policies that secure rehabilitation and alternatives as opposed to simply more punishment,” he told the meeting via Zoom. “I think you should look at the history of Los Angeles County. The ‘tough on crime’ policies of the ‘80s and ‘90s in L.A. County simply were not effective.”
Covina Mayor Jorge A. Marquez–who shared that his own uncle was murdered and he has personally been a victim of crime–voted against the “no confidence” resolution calling the resolution the “wrong way” to address policy differences.
“This is just the wrong way to send a message,” Marquez said at the meeting. “It undermines democracy. He was democratically elected and he is doing exactly what he said he was out to do. He spoke to voters.”
The resolution is the first of its type ever issued by the City of Covina, which also gives Mayor Marquez pause.
“We have never taken a vote of no confidence on an elected official,” Marquez told Los Angeles. “Support and oppose particular policies but not an actual individual.”
APRIL 28, 2021 – On Tuesday, city councils in Lancaster, La Mirada, and Whittier approved votes of “no confidence” in L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón. The votes are symbolic and not legally binding; in December Lancaster’s city council issued the same type of no confidence vote to County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
The three L.A. communities join the city councils of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita, and–by a single vote–Pico Rivera, which previously approved no confidence votes to rebuke Gascón’s policies.
Dialing into the Lancaster City Council meeting, which was conducted remotely, was Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, who has dedicated considerable effort to a campaign against his boss Gascón. Hatami and other critics feel the DA is acting unilaterally and overstepping his authority.
Gascón counters that he has a mandate from the voters who elected him on a platform of attempting to reform the county’s criminal justice system, to make it more fair and equitable–a sentiment some lawmakers support.
“Many of our city’s youth have been caught in this system—a system that does not seek to rehabilitate but sets them on a path to commit more crime,” said Pico Rivera City Concilmember Gustavo Camacho, one of that city’s lawmakers who voted against censuring the DA. “We should be discussing how we change this.”
Gascón accuses his critics of attempting to score political points by scaring the public with “soft on crime” rhetoric.
“They continue to follow the playbook of the ’80s and ’90s,” he said last month. “It’s a simple message, right? Scare the heck out of people, and hopefully that will work for you.”
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