The troubling agenda of LA's new 'progressive' prosecutor and fellow 'reformers'

The troubling agenda of LA's new 'progressive' prosecutor and fellow 'reformers'
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Upon meeting another New Yorker anywhere outside the Big Apple, I can’t help but ask: “Yankees or Mets?” Which team you root for is near the top of the list of contentious divisions between and among Gothamites. Of course, one of those franchises has enjoyed much more success and been home to more of baseball’s biggest stars, so one can understand how Mets fans might grow frustrated with the asymmetry. 

One wouldn’t need to stretch her imagination all that much to guess at what steps Major League Baseball might take to make things more symmetrical — salary caps, luxury taxes, draft rules, etc. But one could never imagine the league appointing a life-long Mets fan to “manage” the Yankees to a more “balanced” winning percentage, while justifying that sabotage with an appeal to “fairness.” If any professional franchise found itself under the thumb of a Rachel Phelps, the villainess in the “Major League” films, it would be an enormous scandal.

Yet, in the much higher-stakes world of local prosecution, this is exactly where so many of the nation’s biggest cities find themselves — at the mercy of district, county and state’s attorneys who are openly throwing games to the team to which they’re truly loyal. Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco, Houston, St. Louis, Boston … the list goes on. All of these cities have elected chief prosecutors who ran on platforms that read as if they were written by those vying to be public defenders. 

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This is the byproduct of the incredibly successful “progressive” prosecutor movement, which, after the inauguration of George Gascón earlier this week, can now count Los Angeles among its trophies.

Gascón, who spent years as the chief prosecutor in San Francisco, is employing an all-too-familiar playbook in LA On Dec. 7, he issued a memorandum to line prosecutors that, among other things, establishes a default policy of declining to prosecute a host of offenses that include trespassing, driving without a license, making criminal threats, drug possession, public intoxication and resisting arrest. For all other misdemeanor offenses, the memo sets out a presumption of pre-trial diversion. And that’s not all: Mr. Gascón announced that he would — unilaterally, mind you (i.e., without any say from lawmakers) — eliminate cash bail and abrogate sentencing enhancements for repeat offenders and gang members.

These policy shifts are all the more worrisome given their timing. Los Angeles, like other cities across the country, recently moved to defund its police department to the tune of $150 million in response to protests. The City of Angels also is in the midst of a sharp uptick in serious violent crime, with murders and shootings up 29 percent and 32 percent, respectively, through Nov. 28.

It’s hard to see how more leniency for misdemeanants and more serious criminal offenders — especially repeat offenders and gang members — will help reverse rather than exacerbate these trends. And indications from how things look in other cities with “progressive” prosecutors aren’t encouraging.

In Eric Gonzalez’s Brooklyn, for example, murders are up through Nov. 29 by more than 64 percent. That accounts for more than half of New York City’s 116 additional homicides compared to the same period last year. Shootings in the borough are up more than 125 percent.

In Kim Foxx’s Chicago, shootings and homicides have jumped 54 percent and 55 percent, respectively, through Dec. 6. Through Dec. 7, Larry Krasner’s Philadelphia has seen 464 homicides this year, an almost 40 percent increase compared to last year; the City of Brotherly Love has seen homicides tick up every year since 2016. 

Through November, Kim Gardner’s St. Louis has experienced a 34 percent spike in homicides and a 20 percent hike in gun assaults. Murders are up more than 37 percent through Dec. 4 in Kim Ogg’s Houston. And harrowing tales abound of the deterioration of public order in Chesa Boudin’s (formerly George Gascón’s) San Francisco, which — in addition to its ongoing problems of shoplifting, open-air drug use and public defecation — has seen a 39 percent increase in homicides this year, through Dec. 6.

A recent report from the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, which examined six jurisdictions with self-styled “reformer” district attorneys, provides some alarming data points. The report found significant decreases in guilty verdicts, increases in the number of cases lost or dropped, and upticks in some measures of violent crime. 

As the progressive prosecutor movement marches on, two questions come to mind. The first is, at what point will the rhetoric of those in the movement begin to reflect the reality that even radical criminal justice “reform” is no longer the cause of underdogs fighting a tough-on-crime establishment? The second — and much more important — question is, exactly how bad will crime and disorder be allowed to get before the movement realizes that proactive policing of high-crime areas, and the incapacitation of violent and repeat offenders, are essential to urban crime control? 

Only time — and the crime stats — will tell.

Rafael A. Mangual is a senior fellow with and deputy director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and a contributing editor of City Journal.