Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis lambasted L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón during a Thursday night Fox News debate with Gov. Gavin Newsom.
In a spat over crime in California and Florida, DeSantis repeatedly pointed to Gascón, who has sought to overhaul L.A. County’s criminal justice system since he entered office in 2020.
“They are on an ideological joyride to let people out of prison,” DeSantis said. “Gavin’s buddy in Los Angeles, Gascón, he doesn’t even prosecute them,” he added, continuing that he had heard from people in California who were scared to go shopping for fear of getting mugged.
“Gavin Newsom has not lifted a finger to rein in Gascón in L.A.,” DeSantis said, arguing that the county has “collapsed” because the district attorney “is not enforcing the law.”
A Times analysis of the L.A. County district attorney’s office’s filing rates showed that Gascón actually prosecuted felonies at a near-identical rate to his predecessor, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, during his first two years in office. Gascón did, however, file only half as many misdemeanor cases as Lacey after barring prosecutors from filing low-level charges for crimes such as trespassing and simple drug possession.
Avoiding those low-level charges was part of Gascón’s effort to keep people experiencing mental illness or homelessness out of jail and instead steer them into diversion programs for counseling, treatment and rehabilitation.
Violent crime, robberies and aggravated assaults have gone up in L.A. County during Gascón’s tenure, according to California Department of Justice statistics. But criminologists have noted similar crime increases in parts of the state overseen by traditional prosecutors, raising doubts about any link between Gascón’s policies and a crime surge.
Violent crime in the city of L.A. was down nearly 7% in the first nine months of 2023 relative to the same period last year, according to Los Angeles Police Department statistics.
One of Gascón’s proposals was to reduce the length of prison sentences for up to 30,000 people in California prisons. Few people have actually had their sentences changed, a Times analysis concluded.
Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.