GEORGE GASCÓN’S PLAN TO ENSURE
LAW ENFORCEMENT ACCOUNTABILITY
Ensuring Policing in Los Angeles County is Fair and Just
Too often police use force because they can and not because they should, and the unequal and excessive application of force against communities of color undermines police legitimacy and community safety. Make no mistake, we have a national crisis of overmilitarized, unaccountable police forces.
The proliferation of cell phones, body-worn cameras, and cameras in patrol vehicles has led to a sharp increase in the number of videos and images depicting violent police encounters that have both validated community outrage and forced the nation to finally confront these injustices. Years of permissive use of force policies and half-hearted reforms have done little to change the status quo.
I am deeply troubled by the current state of law enforcement and as District Attorney I will bring bold and progressive change to policing across the County to make it more transparent and more accountable to the public.
I began my career in law enforcement walking a beat for the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division. I, myself, have faced difficult encounters as a police officer in which I could have used force but chose not to. Later in my career I taught use of force policy to new sergeants—one of the most critical levels of supervision and oversight in a police department—and subsequently made disciplinary decisions related to officers who had inappropriately used force as a police chief in both progressive and conservative American cities. Finally, as a District Attorney, I made criminal charging decisions related to officers who used excessive force.
I strongly believe that law enforcement officers who serve our nation and support our communities deserve our gratitude and respect. The vast majority of these brave men and women serve with honor and integrity and treat people with dignity and equality. On the other hand, policing practices that are harsh, unjust, or unfair undermine police legitimacy, the public’s trust, community safety, and the moral authority of the criminal justice system.
Decades of research have shown that lower levels of trust in police significantly decrease the likelihood that people will report crimes or cooperate with the police. My approach to law enforcement accountability is grounded in an unparalleled understanding of the issues, and a firmly rooted belief that policing must be fair and just in order to enhance our collective safety.
I strongly support increased transparency, greater public engagement in identifying priorities and policies, and holding police officers and agencies accountable. If elected I will work with impacted communities in order to develop and implement policies that will reduce critical use of force incidents and restore trust. To promote fair and just policing in Los Angeles County the reforms I would implement include:
Push for the adoption of a County-wide deadly force standard that allows lethal force to be used only when necessary and as a last resort, ensuring a strong implementation of Assembly Bill 392.
Perhaps no issue is of greater consequence than police use of deadly force. There are too many shootings of unarmed young, Black men, uses of banned choke holds, or excessive use of a Taser, and the solution is clear: strong and smart policies that provide strict regulation and oversight of police use of deadly force. Currently, there are around 55 total law enforcement agencies in the County, and almost as many use of force policies. The absence of a single clear and robust policy creates a confusing patchwork of standards and regulations, with some agencies adopting weak policies that undermine state law limitations on police use of deadly force. This means whether officers have a strong policy that emphasizes that deadly force must be necessary and requires officers to first attempt to de-escalate or use lower levels of force, or a weak policy that has none of those protections, depends on where in the County a person happens to be. George Gascón is committed to pushing law enforcement across the County to adopt a single, clear deadly force policy, that ensures a strong implementation of AB 392 goes even further.
Gascón’s proposed deadly force policy will include and clearly define the following key principles:
- Officers may only use force that is objectively reasonable, necessary, and as a last resort.
- Officers may use force only to accomplish specific law enforcement objectives.
- Officers must attempt to de-escalate confrontations with the goal of resolving
encounters without force.
- Officers must promptly provide and request medical assistance.
- Officers must report, and also attempt to prevent or stop, any use of force that
violates applicable law or policy.
Require law enforcement across the County—meaning around 55 total agencies—to publish regular, standardized public reports on their officers’ use of force, including officer-involved shootings, deployment of less-lethal weapons, use of drones, and use of canines to ensure the public, elected leaders, and others have the necessary information to make meaningful comparisons within and across agencies and hold law enforcement leaders and agencies accountable for effectively managing officer use of force.
The use of force by police may be the greatest area of tension and misunderstanding between law enforcement and the public. This is the case even though, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the proportion of police-public contacts nationally that result in any force being used or threatened by police, including low levels of force (e.g., grabbing someone’s arm, taking someone down to the ground, or applying handcuffs), is less than two percent. These low incidence but high-risk interactions—particularly uses of deadly force by police—erode public trust, making policing more difficult and less safe for officers. Effective management of police use of force is essential to achieving effective, trusted policing.
Therefore, George Gascón believes it is critical that law enforcement agencies regularly report publicly on the levels and frequency with which their officers use force, and he will work to implement this mandate County-wide. These reports must also include information on training, tactics, de-escalation, equipment, and use of force-related policies, as well as information on officer interactions with marginalized or historically disenfranchised communities, such as persons with mental illnesses, the LGBTQI community, persons experiencing homelessness, and persons with disabilities. As police will inevitably need to use force to accomplish legitimate law enforcement objectives in certain instances, the goal is to reduce the overall need to use force, as well as the number of violent encounters between police and the public.
Confront racial disparities in policing by convening a blue-ribbon panel to conduct a comprehensive study of racial disparities across LA County’s justice system, analyze aggregate data and policies of County law enforcement, with inclusion of affected community members and community input, and make recommendations.
The fair and equal administration of justice requires identifying and tackling racial disparities of all kinds within the criminal justice system. Race, whether conscious or unconscious, affects every discretionary point in the criminal justice system. Even race-neutral policies can result in racially disparate outcomes. George Gascón will work with stakeholder groups, including civil rights advocates, justice system-impacted individuals and their families, technology groups, and law enforcement, to institute regulations and protections to identify and confront all forms of disparities within the criminal justice system. The blue-ribbon panel shall be widely diverse, including across racial and ethnic groups, genders and gender identities, and members of different sexual orientations. But Gascón wouldn’t wait for the panel to complete its study before taking action. He knows there are steps DAs can take now within their discretionary power, such as adopting a policy of declining to charge in low-level offenses like standalone resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, or disturbing the peace charges, to address racially discriminatory policing practices.
Collaborate with law enforcement across the County to make police officer misconduct records accessible to all of the public, not only those who request them.
Historically, California has had some of the nation’s strictest rules protecting sensitive police records from being made available to the public. This changed with the passage of Senate Bill 1421, which took effect on January 1, 2019. Now, with some exceptions, all law enforcement records related to officer use of force and discharge of a firearm, investigations of peace officers that resulted in sustained findings of on-the-job sexual assault, or intentional job-related dishonesty are available to those who request them. Transparency is essential, but Gascón will go beyond SB 1421 by making these records accessible to all of the public online so they need not be requested.
Establish a County-wide “do not call” policy, including a registry of disreputable law enforcement officers.
The California Supreme Court recently ruled that law enforcement agencies may let prosecutors know when officers who may testify in a criminal case have histories of misconduct. These alerts are, in fact, essential for prosecutors to fulfill their constitutional duties under Maryland v. Brady and other landmark rulings requiring the discovery of exculpatory evidence to the defense. This is evidence that has any tendency to negate a defendant’s guilt or diminish the credibility of prosecution witnesses.
As Chief of Police in San Francisco, Gascón regularly sent prosecutors the names of officers with problematic histories. As District Attorney, the California Supreme Court declared the Brady policy developed by Gascón to be a model. And he will go further in Los Angeles by creating a standardized process that facilitates the transfer of officers’ misconduct histories from every law enforcement agency across the County to the DA’s Office, thereby requiring all prosecutors to share these alerts with defense attorneys. Additionally, in cases that are public under SB 1421 Gascón will stop the practice of prosecutors seeking protective orders against the use of officers’ prior applicable sustained discipline by defense attorneys.
Establish County-wide standards for police body-worn cameras and in-car video systems that take into account the public’s trust, privacy concerns, and regulatory restraints.
California only recently adopted State-wide standards for whether and under what circumstances video of police-involved incidents will be released to the public—a standard that was largely based on the LAPD’s policy. But there are still inconsistent policies on how and when body-worn or dash camera video should be turned on, used in internal or criminal investigations, or audited by agencies to identify potential training issues.
George Gascón is committed to establishing strong County-wide standards for the use of body-worn cameras and in-car video systems to advance transparency and openness in police operations and officer interactions with the community. Additionally, he supports creating procedural safeguards for the investigative process that strike a balance between the competing interests of: (a) the public in obtaining timely access to video and audio recordings pertaining to police use of force; (b) individuals who are the subject of police action; (c) the privacy concerns of potential witnesses or complainants; and (d) units of local, state and federal government involved in investigating or otherwise addressing the consequences of those incidents.
Transparency and accountability are cornerstone principles of his plan for ensuring policing in Los Angeles County is fair and just and for establishing strong County-wide standards to ensure our law enforcement agencies remain at the forefront in advancing American policing.
Create and lead a County-wide Police Sentinel Event Review Board.
Independent bodies, like the National Transportation Safety Board, have played a role in greatly reducing airplane crashes by recommending industry standards and regulations after such incidents. Recently, academics and law enforcement leaders have begun to implement similar “sentinel event” reviews following officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths, wrongful arrests, police officer injuries or deaths, or other concerning criminal justice-related outcomes. These reviews take a system-oriented approach to such instances, avoiding placing blame on individual officers or employees, and working toward culture change and improving public safety.
George Gascón believes strongly in taking a broader view of police-involved incidents and using each as a learning opportunity to improve performance and reduce future negative outcomes. Gascón will create a County-wide Police Sentinel Event Review Board to review significant adverse incidents, such as police shootings, as well as “near misses,” and work to issue recommendations based on evidence revealed in these reviews. He will engage the public, interested stakeholders, and the nation’s leaders in criminal justice research and practice in applying sentinel event reviews to policing.
Create an Independent Investigations Bureau and hire and train attorney specialists to enhance its ability to investigate and review all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths and to investigate and review all other excessive use of force cases.
A strong relationship of mutual trust between law enforcement and the community is among the most important tools for ensuring public safety. Communities are safer when law enforcement’s relationship with community members is built on mutual cooperation and respect for shared values and rights. Police shootings and a lack of independent investigations of police use of force have the potential to erode the public’s trust.
In an ideal world the State Attorney General’s Office would be responsible for investigating and prosecuting all officer-involved shootings in California. Recognizing the difficulties associated with such a model in a state as large as California, however, George Gascón will allocate substantial resources to establish an Independent Investigations Bureau, an independent unit within the DA’s Office reporting directly to him that would investigate all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths and, where warranted, criminally prosecute officers who violate the law. Gascón has previously supported and implemented an independent investigations bureau as San Francisco’s DA—one of the first DA’s offices in the nation to do so—and will replicate this successful model in LA County.
Gascón will also advocate for changes to State law that will ensure law enforcement agencies are not responsible for investigating themselves, such that uninterested third parties will investigate and, when appropriate prosecute, all uses of deadly force by police; all uses of force by police that result in a person’s hospitalization; and all administrative complaints (e.g., violations of policy) alleging use of excessive force by police or other serious misconduct.
Establish an Open Data Unit that will make data and information publicly available about police stops, arrests, uses of force, deaths in custody, homicides, hate crimes, law enforcement officers killed or injured in the line of duty, lawsuits, civilian complaints, and other key areas on the DA’s website.
Increased public scrutiny and a growing national trend toward greater government transparency have led to technological innovation and advancements in releasing previously unavailable police data. Every day, journalists, advocates, and others are forging new pathways to publishing criminal justice data. Access to this information has allowed the public to make more informed public policy decisions and hold their elected leaders accountable for their actions and those of the police. George Gascón will make an unprecedented investment in building a public platform and tools for publishing County-wide law enforcement data that will help the County understand how it’s performing, hold itself and law enforcement accountable, and improve policies to make LA County fairer and safer.
Make the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office’s policies and procedures public and call for all Los Angeles County law enforcement agencies to do the same.
Police departments across the nation are demonstrating greater openness and transparency, and many have begun releasing more information about critical issues, such as officer use of force, including officer-involved shootings, officer misconduct, and civilian complaints, and harmful policing practices like “stop and frisk.” Still, many departments, including a number of agencies in California and throughout Los Angeles County, continue to resist public access to information, policies, and investigative reports. George Gascón will work with law enforcement across the County to build the infrastructure necessary to comply with recent State law and increase transparency, while at the same time working to make policing more effective at fighting crime. George will also work with communities across the County to identify key and relevant policy issues.
Advocate for changes to state law that would give the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) the authority to decertify law enforcement officers who have engaged in serious misconduct; that would allow the Commission to participate in the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) National Decertification Index (NDI); and that would allow officers to voluntarily and permanently surrender their license.
Currently, in the U.S., 45 states provide for revoking a police officer’s license or certificate when the officer has engaged in serious misconduct. California is not one of them. The only national registry of these officers is maintained by IADLEST; participation in the NDI is voluntary and only state POST commissions that have the authority to decertify officers can enter information into it. Law enforcement agencies in California can still query the system; however, according to IADLEST, few actually do. This means problematic officers are likely being hired by one or more of the approximately 55 agencies in LA County. Problematic officers who move around from state to state or department to department to avoid detection are a threat to the integrity, values, and organizational culture of the County’s highly trained, professional police agencies and the communities they serve. Giving California POST the authority to decertify officers—and to enter and edit information in the NDI—would require a change in State law. George Gascón will advocate for legislation that would give California POST the authority to decertify officers to better protect police agencies from unknowingly hiring problematic officers, to ensure communities across the State continue to receive the highest quality police services, and to strengthen the public’s trust.
Gascón wants to help bring California into alignment with nearly every other state in the nation. He also wants to help bring policing into alignment with most other highly skilled professions, such as law or medicine, that revoke the licenses of individuals found to have engaged in serious misconduct. Extending this authority to California POST will ensure officers who were fired and who lost their license in California or another state are not hired in LA County. For example, the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice had been fired from another agency. Had the Cleveland Police Department not hired him, Tamir may have lived to see his 13th birthday. George Gascón will work to get the law changed in California to better support and protect police across the County and the communities they serve.
Adopt a policy of no retaliatory charging of individuals or their family members for speaking out against the police, and indeed no aggressive charging for First Amendment activity.
Recently, law enforcement in LA County has been criticized for aggressive charging of individuals shot by police or their families, seemingly in response to them speaking out publicly about their anger and pain and calling for reform. Relatedly, there have been more incidents of filing criminal charges of resisting arrest or assault on an officer against protestors who are escorted out of public meetings. This is unacceptable. Families of individuals who have been shot or killed by police should not be further traumatized by having the criminal justice system wielded against them. And under no circumstances should law enforcement ever be used to punish the free expression of First Amendment rights. George Gascón would ensure the DA’s Office vigorously protects First Amendment rights and prohibit retaliatory charging.
Adequately staff the District Attorney’s Wrongful Conviction Unit and build collaborations with local law schools, like Loyola Law School, that already have these programs to right injustices of the past.
Allowing innocent men and women to sit in jail or prison is unacceptable, and it was unacceptable that Jackie Lacey took no action until seven years after receiving notice in the case of Ruben Martinez, Jr., who served 11 years of a 47-year-prison-sentence after being falsely convicted in 2008 of a series of armed robberies. Mr. Martinez’s case is only one of a very small number of instances where the DA’s office has supported vacating a conviction since the office’s Wrongful Conviction Unit was first established in 2015. Too few cases have been reviewed, let alone vacated, in light of the volume and massive backlog of requests. George Gascón will make the Wrongful Conviction Unit a priority and ensure the unit is adequately staffed with attorneys and investigators and will explore partnerships with local law schools, such as Loyola Law School, that have well-established wrongful conviction programs. Justice delayed is justice denied. George Gascón is fully committed to righting the wrongs of the past and to ensuring policing in Los Angeles County is fair and just.