Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón confirmed this week that the office’s Hardcore Gang Division would be downsized, reorganized, and renamed as part of a new approach to improve public safety.
According to Gascón’s office, the new Community Violence Reduction Division will be made up of experienced prosecutors who will collaborate with activist groups, gang intervention workers, and the Los Angeles Police Department “in some of the most challenged areas.”
“By embedding our prosecutors in the communities that we serve, we will be able to get better results reducing and preventing crime by working with all of our community, county, and law enforcement partners,” said Gascón. “This community-first model will eventually be used throughout Los Angeles County to ensure our approach is reflective of the particular needs of individual communities.”
Deputy district attorneys will be assigned to three LAPD stations (77th Street, Foothill, and Newton) to investigate and prosecute “the most troubling incidents of street violence,” a news release from Gascón’s office said. A memo from Gascón called these areas “violence prone.”
The unit previously known as the Hardcore Gang Division “also will seek to proactively prevent crime by working with community-based organizations and with county partners that deal with victim services, public health and violence prevention,” the D.A. office said.
“The goal of these efforts is to treat community violence through a collaborative public health approach,” said Gascón. “We hope to end the cycle of generational violence and prevent victims from being repeatedly traumatized.”
Officials told the Los Angeles Times that the restructured division would be reduced in size, from 40 prosecutors down to 26. The Times notes, “News of the changes to the unit have infuriated some veteran prosecutors, who say the shift was poorly thought out and poorly timed as homicides and gang violence are on the rise in Los Angeles.” According to the outlet, “At least 60 of the 105 homicides that had taken place in Los Angeles as of April 20 were believed to be connected to gang activity, police officials have said.”
Eric Siddall, vice president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles County and former Hardcore Gang Division prosecutor, claims “there is no coherent plan about how to deal with gang violence in our county now.” He said the unit has 700 active cases that will only increase as gang-related murders continue to surge.
“(Gascón) is engaged in a major social experiment, and unfortunately, we are the lab rats that he’s using to help further his ideological agenda,” Siddall told KFI’s John and Ken Show on Friday. “He’s dismantling (the Hardcore Gang Division) because he’s beholden to some fringe groups who don’t believe in the criminal justice system. He said he was going to turn the criminal justice system upside down, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
According to City News Service, “The district attorney has also established a community violence prosecution coordinator program that will serve each of the county’s branch courts and central trial offices, in which prosecutors assigned to the program will evaluate, file and try violent crimes that are not handled by the Community Violence Reduction Division.”
The L.A. Times reports:
The changes are part of Gascón’s broader mission to reduce reliance on incarceration and seek outcomes that favor rehabilitation over punishment. In announcing a policy barring prosecutors from using sentencing enhancements in nearly all cases last year, Gascón cited gang enhancements as among the most problematic, often filed against defendants accused of crimes that have nothing to do with their alleged gang status.
Gascón believes gang cases are prosecuted more aggressively than others and said he believes changing the unit’s mission, and name, might help repair fractured trust between law enforcement and communities in L.A. County that often complain of being overpoliced.
“The model of Hardcore Gang … you create a model that, first of all, even the name itself, it’s sort of this connotation of us against them. Bad guys, good guys,” he said. “There’s increasingly a disconnect with the communities that we serve.”
Defense attorneys have long criticized the unit as a magnet for ambitious prosecutors who wanted to rack up convictions and seek promotion within the office.
FOX 11 News first reported that Gascón was planning to dismantle the Hardcore Gang Division last month.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who supports an effort to recall Gascón from office, blasted the D.A. after that report.
“While gang members are busy driving up LA County’s homicide rate, LA DA @GeorgeGascon is now dismantling the Hardcore Gang Unit that works in collaboration with local law enforcement,” tweeted Sheriff Villanueva on March 31. “This can only serve to add gasoline to a raging fire of gang violence that threatens the safety of all. This is not reform, it’s beginning to look more and more like a suicide pact.”
Villanueva recently told FOX 11 that he has only spoken to Gascón once since the D.A. took office in December. Dressed in street clothes, Villanueva appeared at a “victims vigil” in late February organized by victims rights advocates who launched the drive to oust Gascón.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, “Victims of Violent Crime for the Recall of District Attorney Gascon” is chaired by former L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine, who, like Gascón, previously worked for LAPD. Zine co-hosted a short-lived L.A. radio show in 2015 with Randy Economy, senior advisor to the ongoing campaign to recall California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom.
The Gascón recall group’s honorary chairs are former L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a Republican, and Tania Owen, the widow of L.A. County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen, who was fatally shot execution-style in 2016 while in the line of duty.
Gascón has said that he views himself as part of a progressive movement that has prioritized implementing sweeping reforms across the nation. L.A. County is the largest criminal justice jurisdiction in the U.S.