LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Newly sworn in Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón spoke out Thursday, just days after taking office, about his plans for the office.
"I am very committed to the safety of our community," he said. "The first thing that I want people to know is to understand that I spent 40 years of my life working really hard to make communities safe and to protect victims, and I have a deep-rooted respect for policing. I spent most of my life in policing and then about 10 years as a district attorney."
Elected as a progressive, Gascón announced half a dozen new policies on his first day that got everyone talking — from police officers to community activists and crime victims.
One of his first decisions: eliminating cash bail on non-violent offenses.
"People that are being held in county jail that are not dangerous, but they're being held simply because they cannot afford bail, that's one too many," he said.
The new D.A. also said he would no longer seek the death penalty and would take a less aggressive approach on lower-level offenders and eliminate enhanced prison sentences for things like being a gang member.
And while some have criticized the moves as being too much and too fast, Gascón said he could continue pushing forward with his agenda.
"First of all, I think it's important for everyone to realize what we've done before hasn't worked, let's be honest with one another," he said. "And crime is going up again, and it's going up for a variety of reasons again, and we haven't implemented any reform yet.
"So, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, you know, is the definition of insanity, right," he continued. "Every time that we send someone to prison for multiple decades we're impacting our community, we're impacting individuals, we're impacting families."
For those who allege Gascón was being soft on crime at the expense of victims, he said that he believes victims would rather see those who commit crimes against them rehabilitated.
"Number one, there have been multiple surveys of victims in this country — in fact very recent ones — and victims by and large here's what they say they want: they want the harm to stop, the pain to stop, obviously, and that means we have to intervene and help them," he said. "And punishing somebody doesn't stop the harm, the pain that it's causing.
"Overwhelmingly, by the way, this is what victims are telling us, and this is multiple surveys in California and around the nation," he continued. "Victims are not saying, 'I want the death penalty,' or 'I want people to be locked up for years.'"
And though some in the D.A.'s office have said there's talk amongst tough-on-crime prosecutors of ignoring the new orders, or quitting, Gascón made clear that he is not going to back down.
"There's no question, especially for people who have been in the system or in an office like this that has been so focused on punishment, this is a shock to the system," he said. "And we know that organizational cultures take time to evolve, but there are also many people in the office, especially in the last day and a half or so that have been sending emails not only emails of support but also saying, 'I'm so glad we're gonna go in a different direction.'"
The new D.A. also pointed out that he won by almost eight points in the election, stating that the win was a clear mandate that the voters wanted change.
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