By Ishani Desai
LOS ANGELES — District Attorney George Gascón unveiled a new office titled the Community Violence Reduction Division in hopes of reducing violent crime by shifting away from punitive measures to solutions grounded in public health.
The Community Violence Reduction Division has prosecutors scattered throughout three LAPD divisions who will work with community-based organizations to reduce street crime. The original version was previously named the Hardcore Gang Unit.
“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 DA Gascón in a press release. “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.”
Founded in 1979, the Hardcore Gang Unit sought to target repeat offenders of violent crimes and prosecuted gang members in juvenile or criminal courts.
The move away from severe punishment comes on the heels of Gascón’s move away from the 1980s slogan tough on crime, which shaped the country’s prosecutorial landscape in regards to many infractions.
“Like most of the tough-on-crime era policies, the hardcore gang unit was implemented in the absence of data showing it would enhance safety or deterrence, or better protect victims of crime,” said Gascón in a tweet.
According to criminologist Daniel Nagin’s research, the chance of punishment is not the main deterrent of crime and strengthening the severity of the penalization is also not a viable solution; only increasing the perception that criminals could be apprehended by law enforcement decreases felonies.
Gascón’s plan to re-imagine gang-related violence comes at a time when lengthy prison sentences fail to deter repeat offenders.
“Statutory ranges for criminal offenses alone, without enhancements, are sufficient to both hold people accountable and also to protect public safety,” said Gascón in a policy directive addressed to his deputy district attorneys.
“While initial incarceration prevents crime through incapacitation, studies show that each additional sentence year causes a 4 to 7 percent increase in recidivism that eventually outweighs the incapacitation benefit,” said Gascón.
Eric Siddal, the vice president of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys union, disapproved of Gascón’s new plan.
“The remarkable change is that at a time when gang murders are reaching levels that we haven’t seen in 10, 20 years, [Gascón] has decided to cut the gang unit to fulfill a political promise that he’s given to fringe groups,” Sidall said. “It is typical of what this administration does. It does not make decisions based upon public safety. It makes decisions based upon what it feels will poll well with the public.”
LA County faces an increase of homicides in 2021—51 homicides have been reported by LAPD since January 2021. During a similar time frame last year, LA County saw only 32 crimes.
The Black Lives Matter movement cast its support for the creation of this committee, said Gregory Akili, a prominent civil rights activist and a member of the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.
“He is basically doing what he was elected to do,” said Akili. “It’s not like people didn’t know about it.”
Prosecutors may also handle crimes not designated to the Community Violence Reduction Division and will train other inexperienced lawyers in this work.
“Our goal is to significantly reduce the rising violence in our communities and to provide timely and much-needed resources to crime victims,” said Gascón. “Together, we can make lasting changes that will dramatically improve our lives.”
Ishani Desai is a writer for the LA Vanguard’s campus and city desk. She is a history major at UCLA, originally from Bakersfield, CA.
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