No Sharp Elbows Thrown at LA Mayoral Debate on Public Safety

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

No one needed to call a cop at the Los Angeles mayoral debate on public safety last night. It was a rather peaceful affair with the candidates present generally agreeing on public safety issues and solutions.

The Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that developed a roadmap for gang intervention and crime reduction in the city, sponsored the debate.

With a nod to their hosts, City Controller Wendy Greuel, former Federal Prosecutor Kevin James, and City Councilwoman Jan Perry all supported the Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program, the concept and strategy developed by the Advancement Project. All three candidates pledged to keep the program in the mayor’s office, a position pushed by the host organization. City Councilman Eric Garcetti, the other major candidate who was not at the forum, has suggested the program be run from outside the mayor’s office.

(UPDATE: The Garcetti campaign says the information delivered last night by the Advancement Project is incorrect and that Mr. Garcetti  has not said that he would make the GYRD a commission or remove it from the mayor’s office.)

Advancement Project co-founder, Connie Rice, author of Power Concedes Nothing, which chronicles her efforts to deal with LA’s gang crisis and help reform the LAPD, urged the next mayor not to create a new program that they could “put their name on” but to continue the success of the GRYD program.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck kicked off the proceedings noting that Los Angeles went from an exporter of gang crime across the country to a place in which gang crime had been cut in half over the last five years. Much of the credit was given to community based policing and the gang intervention program.

The crime reduction is more amazing considering the context of the times it occurred. As candidate James noted, the economy was not responsible for the drop in crime. Despite the worst recession since the Great Depression, the fact that crime dropped during this period is considered a major accomplishment.

No hard jabs were thrown in the debate. James, running as the outsider, was the only one to refer to his “opponents” and problems not solved by those currently in power. James also was the only one who directly asked for a vote.

All the candidates argued for more funding for the crime prevention programs, although they had different ways of finding those dollars. Perry talked about dipping into First Five money that has not been spent and limiting the city’s responsibilities to its core services, getting out from ownership of the convention center, as an example.

James said the city’s “wasteful” spending needed to be reduced and money better spent. He also pointed to privately funded mentor programs in South Central LA, in which he is involved.

For years, Los Angeles mayors have aimed for a target of 10,000 patrol officers. Despite the land size of the city, LA has only about a fourth the number of officers in New York City. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa set the goal of 10,000 for his administration, which has not yet been achieved.

Greuel said the 10,000 figure should be a goal and said she would try to achieve that number of street officers.

However, James said the number was arbitrary and what was more important was putting officers on the street for more hours by eliminating archaic paperwork requirements for police.

Perry also said there was nothing magical about the 10,000 figure. She said that technology could help preserve public safety, using as an example placing cameras in parks and other potential crime locations.

Despite diminished resources and personnel, crime has dropped in the city, thanks in part to the efforts on gangs and the roadmap developed by the Advancement Project. Now that they have accomplished the near impossible, next, the Advancement Project should set its sights on the truly impossible, fixing the city’s budget.

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