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Candidate Rick Caruso makes homelessness, crime his campaign's focus

Candidate Rick Caruso makes homelessness, crime his campaign's focus
Candidate Rick Caruso makes homelessness, crime his campaign's focus 04:34

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso has made it a point that, if elected, he will make the homelessness crisis one of his office's main focuses.

"Homelessness [is] the biggest problem we have in the city right now," the billionaire developer said.

With the election for the leader of the second-largest city in the United States just a month away, Caruso said he would declare a State of Emergency to give himself the authority to homeless shelters. The homeless shelters would help him achieve his goal of housing 30,000 homeless people within his first 300 days in office.

"I take a complicated problem, distill it down into multiple solutions, build the best — and the brightest of a team — and work every day and never give up to solve it," said Caruso, whose critics have said he oversimplifies issues. "I've done this before."

UCLA Law School Professor Gary Blasi said any state of emergency would only last seven days. 

"Under the charter, the mayor can declare a state of emergency," he said. "But it must be ratified not just one time by the City Council, but it has to be reviewed every couple of weeks or so and approved again."

While a state of emergency was declared for the pandemic by Mayor Eric Garcetti, legal experts said it's not the same as asking 15 councilmembers to give up their power to make land-use decisions. 

"I think we have 15 councilmembers who care about people living and dying on the streets," Caruso said. "And we have 15 councilmembers who want to be part of success."

Despite Caruso's optimism, Blasi said 15 councilmembers coming together to back this idea is farfetched. 

"There is no world in which that would ever happen," said Blasi. 

One of Caruso's ideas for tackling the homelessness crisis is to convert the 300 surplus parcels of land in Los Angeles County into temporary homeless shelters. 

"Majority of these are in commercial and industrial areas," he said. "So we got a lot of options to do it."

Again, Blasi criticized the idea, claiming that the areas could not sustain those shelters. 

"There's a reason they're vacant because it's almost always unbuildable," he said. 

Caruso has also made it his mission to address crime rates in L.A. According to LAPD records, total violent crimes are up 12.7% so far this year compared to the same period in 2020. Additionally, total property crimes have increased by 12.5% compared to two years ago. 

"More officers on the street are needed to prevent crime," said Caruso.

Police recruitment has dropped nationwide similar to what happened to the Los Angeles Police Department after the 1992 riots. During that time, former Richard Riordan made a similar campaign promise of staffing the department with 10,000 officers. Today, Caruso said the city is about 900 officers shy of that goal.

Mayors, including Riordan, have made a similar promise but have never reached that staffing level. 

"I can't account for other people making promises and not keeping them," said Caruso. We are the most under-policed large city in America per capita. We've got crime that's out of control."

Caruso also claimed the calls for defunding the police following the death of George Floyd hurt the department's morale and recruitment.

"We went through a defunding," he said. "The City Council and Eric Garcetti voted to defund in 2019. We're impacted by that mightily. We got to have more officers on the street."

Zev Yaroslavsky, who teaches at UCLA after serving as a councilman and county supervisor, pointed out that the LAPD budget, which accounts for the largest part of the city budget, has only increased after a year of cuts. It also reflected lower revenues during the start of the pandemic. 

"I think 'defund the police' is an unfortunate moniker for this debate," he said. "By the way, when Caruso was on the police commission, they were cutting back on police too and that wasn't a bad thing. They were making up for it with overtime."

Congresswoman Karen Bass, Caruso's opponent in the election, believes the LAPD could have more officers on patrol if some office jobs were filled by civilians. 

"Over the years, I noticed a lot of police officers who were not doing police work," said Yaroslavsky. "They were not out in the field, walking the beat — responding to crime. A lot of them are doing paperwork at the station."

However, Caruso disagreed with the pair. 

"Many officers that are behind a desk are behind a desk because of some injury," he said. 

He said the LAPD recruitment could improve with a change in culture that starts with the mayor's office.

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