There’s a New Prosecutor in Town

By: 
Stephen Downing

Actually, he’s not new to town. He’s just new to the Naples Island neighborhood. His name is George Gascón – our newly elected district attorney.

Gascón moved back to Long Beach when he left San Francisco to run against the incumbent Los Angeles District Attorney, Jackie Lacey.

In an email exchange with Gascón he said “We came to Long Beach about a year ago to be closer to my daughters and grandchildren.”

The email exchange took place after I verified a tip sent to the Beachcomber that Gascón had purchased a home on Naples Island.

Following a quick public documents check we found that the newly elected D.A. purchased what was advertised as a “perfect moderate fixer on Naples Island with a roof decked double car garage and an in-ground spa in the back yard.”

In his email Gascón described his purchase as “a little cleaner upper bungalow on (street redacted) and we look forward to moving soon.”

Prior to contacting Gascón I visited the Naples Island neighborhood that would soon have bragging rights about their new neighbor and took a look at the single family, 3-bedroom, 2-bath 1,406 sq. ft. home purchased for $1,000,000.

I found the bungalow as well as a friendly neighbor down the block who confirmed that the fixing up had already started.

The neighbor was very discreet. I had quite a time getting an acknowledgement that Gascón was the new owner. But, a bit of friendly coaxing finally broke the ice.

It was then that our conversation segued into the common background Gascón and I share.

We talked about the fact that Gascón first joined the LAPD and went through the academy in 1978, a time when I was the department’s deputy chief in charge of the personnel and training bureau and responsible for police academy training.

I told the neighbor that our new D.A. was most likely exposed to my use of force lectures while a police recruit.

It was in 1978 that the LAPD changed – at my recommendation as chair of the use of force board – the department’s use of deadly force policy.

We introduced a revised policy and a preamble establishing that “human life is precious and the taking of a life shall be only as a last resort.”

The revised policy was influenced by the prior review of an officer involved shooting that was technically legal, but from a training and policy standpoint – avoidable.

As a result of our conversation the neighbor became curious about my view of the new policies Gascón introduced on day one of his administration. Changes that included ending the death penalty, ending sentencing enhancements, ending trying children as adults, ending cash bail and ending the criminalization of homelessness, mental health and addiction.

The question evoked many memories that went back to the time that I was ending my career as a police executive and Gascón was beginning his.

By the time I retired in 1980 the financial strength and political influence of police and prison guard unions was just beginning to build – along with President Nixon’s war on drugs.

The product of that influence became the “tough on crime” era that propagated over the next 40 years.

Gascón worked with it for 40 years and experienced it as a police officer coming up through the ranks, becoming an assistant chief in the LAPD, a chief of police in Arizona and San Francisco – and eventually San Francisco’s district attorney.

I watched the “tough on crime” era unfold as an experienced police executive no longer constrained by the cultural bubble of the criminal justice community.

Most of what I have seen over the past 40 years confirmed what I began to see and predict in the final years of my police career – the growth of gangs, mass incarceration, fractured communities, homelessness and a drug war that became a war on the people.

With all of that in mind my simple and straight-forward answer to Gascón’s soon-to be-neighbor’s question was: “We’ve had 40 years of being tough on crime and it hasn’t worked. So, why not try a new experiment and see if a few reforms might help fix the harms imposed by the status quo and hopefully create a better society.”

My answer appeared to confirm the neighbor’s own view of our broken criminal justice system; I got an affirmative nod.

That nod from a close neighbor is a plus for Gascón, because the neighborhood he picked to buy his fixer upper voted against him.

Naples Island gave Gascón 36.5 percent of the vote while Lacey’s status quo campaign garnered 50 percent.

Downtown, Wrigley, Bixby Knolls and North Long Beach were all big supporters of Gascón while most of East Long Beach gave him thumbs down.

During the campaign Mayor Robert Garcia endorsed the new D.A. saying: “George Gascón has reduced violent crime in every leadership position he has held, proving that justice reform and community safety can go hand in hand.”

In spite of the mayor’s endorsement and a downtown vote giving Gascón 50.9 percent to Lacey’s. 36.0 percent, it appears that the institutional folks working in the downtown Long Beach criminal justice system did not – and do not – share Garcia’s enthusiasm.

According to the L.A. Times, prosecutors – and even some judges – working in the Long Beach Criminal Courts building are unhappy with the progressive changes being introduced by the new district attorney.

On Dec. 7 the Beachcomber asked the Long Beach City Prosecutor via email if he planned to change misdemeanor prosecution policy in Long Beach to align with those introduced by Gascón. To date, in spite of follow-up reminders – we have received no response.

On Dec. 16 in a 7:30 a.m. conference call to all LBPD employees Chief Luna made it clear that he disagreed with the mayor’s endorsement of Gascón when asked about his policy changes.

Luna said, “No. Not as I sit here before you… We’re trying to figure out between what’s actually going to be policy and what’s rhetoric and all that stuff. But what everyone needs to know is, if things start going wrong, whether it’s in Long Beach or in L.A. County, if the police stopped doing their job, we’re going to get blamed. We’re going to get blamed for everything that’s gone wrong.”

The fact is that all of Gascón’s new policies are written in detail and anyone interested in what is real and what is rhetoric can find out by taking the time to read them.

The attitudes of the criminal justice system influencers operating in Downtown Long Beach leads us to a bigger question: Whose side is the mayor going to take when the police union (LBPOA) starts making noises about the Gascón reforms?

Will Garcia risk shutting off the flow of POA money that has kept him quiet about police misconduct since he resigned from the GOP and ran his first campaign or will he continue to support the reforms – and the re-investigation of officer involved shootings – promised by our new district attorney?

In response to recent pushback to his policy changes Gascón said, “When I took the oath of office, I not only promised to make change, I also made a commitment that I would listen and the community would have a place at the table.”

He recently listened to objections to his stance on enforcing sentencing enhancements and as a result, made reasonable adjustments.

I have never personally met George Gascón. The email exchange related to his real estate purchase was our first communication.

Incredibly he provided his personal cell phone number and signed off by writing, “I look forward to getting together for coffee once this pandemic is under control. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.”

I think I’ll do that since he’s offered to “listen” and “make a place at the table.”

There’s a great deal that needs to be discussed about the governance of Long Beach and its police department. We have ten years of reporting about a crony organizational culture, misconduct, excessive use of force, fraud, bad shootings and internal cover-ups (like the Tiger Text scandal) that needs to be put on the table.

Jackie Lacey never listened. Perhaps that will change – or not. Only time will tell.

It all gets down to character.

 

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief.

Stephen.Beachcomber@Gmail.com

 

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Comments

He was one of the few people running for office in this last election that I excitedly voted for and I’m proud to have them living in our community.

I hope that this new DA will help LBC by opening an investigation on what I believe is one of the most corrupt and incompetent police department in the nation. Its time corrupt chief Luna and his minions are held accountable for all the lying, cover-up's, cronyism and embezzlement's of our tax money. If our city government does not want to do anything because of the money they take form the POA, then maybe the new DA will hold them accountable. Let's pray.

DISGUSTING AND SHAMEFUL
Gascon is a narcissistic arrogant megalomaniac.
The BeachComber AND residents of Naples should be ASHAMED.
Gascon stood at a press conference and called a mother whom.lost her son to a violent tortuous murderer "uneducated" on live television. Rather than UPHOLD THE LAW of the state of Ca, he has chosen to remove sentencing enhancements and let the killer of this mother's son get PAROLE after time served.. on ANY other day, Belmont Shore and Naples residents would back the Blue.. but if a law enforcement officer is killed, Gascon would NOT impose sentence enhancements to keep that killer behind bars... INSTEAD.. that killer and the one that tortured and murdered this moms son will be free to walk the streets..
Yall should be ASHAMED of this man and the fact he lives here.. ASHAMED that you don't stand for the law and instead bow to criminals.
ASHAMED that officers who regularly patrol your neighborhoods are IRRELEVANT to you.
We will recall Gascon.. I just hope we do it before you learn what its like to be a victim of violent crime

Maybe if police departments like LBPD would hold their corrupt officers accountable and fire corrupt and incompetent people like Chief Luna, there would be no need for such reform. The people working in department like the LBPD that have operated with impunity for many years are the cause of these type of reforms. I can understand you anger but maybe you should spread some of that anger towards the LBPD, city attorney office and mayor who help the LBPD getaway with cover-up and do nothing about police misconduct. We the tax payer have to settle these lawsuits and no one is ever held accountable. I believe that if the corrupt leadership of the LBPD was held accountable such actions from the new DA would not be needed. It's called case and affect. The good officer are overshadowed, by bad leadership and bad cops. Let's see if the new DA can make a difference before you judge him. The last DA did nothing to hold cops accountable, that why she is no longer the DA.

I am completely with you on this subject about Gascon. He is a menace to society and anyone that thinks he’s “great” is a moron!!!!

I happen to agree somewhat but we just can’t kick people out of neighborhoods if we don’t like them. Hopefully Gascon will change his opinion on criminals. We can’t give up on appealing to his conscience.

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