The union representing the Los Angeles Police Department has contributed $1 million to defeat district attorney candidate George Gascón in a high-stakes election to determine who will oversee the country’s largest prosecutor’s office.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents over 9,900 officers, made the massive contributions in two separate tranches on Thursday to an anti-Gascón political action committee, campaign finance filings show.
With this contribution, the LAPPL is stepping up its campaign against a former member. Gascón once patrolled the streets of Los Angeles as a beat cop and rose to the rank of assistant chief. After serving as San Francisco DA, he is running to unseat Los Angeles County DA Jackie Lacey on a platform of progressive reforms, including stricter oversight of police use of force.
According to Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor, large influxes of cash like this “underscore just how threatened [police unions] seem to feel by a new generation of prosecutors trying to do things differently.”
“These counter-forces are not succeeding,” said Krinsky, who heads Fair and Just Prosecution, an organization pushing for reform-minded DAs.
Los Angeles has incarceration rates more than four times higher than San Francisco. Gascón has pledged to lower prison admissions in LA by 20 percent in his first year, seek shorter sentences, and abandon the death penalty.
In contrast, Lacey, the first woman and first African American to hold the office, has cautiously approached reforms and pitched herself as “safeguarding of crime victim’s rights.” Since she took office in 2012, she has declined to prosecute a series of high-profile police shootings. During her tenure, 22 people have been sentenced to death in Los Angeles County, all of them people of color. Lacey has defended her pursuit of the death penalty, saying she sought capital punishment in less than three percent of eligible cases in 2018.
Now the future of the Los Angeles County DA’s office—spanning nearly 1,000 attorneys with jurisdiction over more than 10 million people—hangs in the balance. Gascón, along with former public defender Rachel Rossi, is facing two-term incumbent Lacey in the March 3 primaries. There will be a November run-off if no candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote.
Gascón has been endorsed by the LA County Democratic Party, while Lacey has earned endorsements from California power players including LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the LAPPL.
“Once LA County voters take a look at Gascón’s dangerous record as District Attorney of San Francisco, they’ll be frightened,” LAPPL’s Board of Directors said in a statement to The Appeal on Friday. “Residents of Los Angeles County want safe neighborhoods and they want their criminal justice system to be fair and to continue to hold those that break the law accountable.”
Violent crime dropped significantly in San Francisco during Gascón’s tenure, though Breed has blamed him for high rates of car break-ins; his campaign has attributed the problem to police making arrests in just a small percentage of those cases.
Police unions regularly spend on district attorney races to elect and influence prosecutors who will be aligned with their interests.
Law enforcement groups in San Francisco spent more than $650,000 campaigning against progressive favorite Chesa Boudin in the city’s November DA race. Boudin narrowly won against interim DA Suzy Loftus. (Gascón resigned a few months before the election to move back to Los Angeles).
In Sacramento, California, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s re-election campaign received $13,000 from police unions days after officers killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed Black man, in his grandmother’s backyard in 2018. After Elena Mondragon, an unarmed pregnant teenager, was killed by police in Fremont, California, in 2018, the local district attorney, Nancy O’Malley, received a $10,000 campaign donation from the police union. Both prosecutors ultimately declined to charge the officers, and both denied that the campaign donations influenced their decision-making.
Max Szabo, spokesperson for the Gascón campaign, tied the LAPPL’s anti-Gascón push to a fear of greater police prosecutions.
“This isn’t about safety,” he said. “It’s about who will hold police officers accountable, and they’re giving Jackie Lacey a million more reasons to continue looking the other way.”