Crime is on the rise in Los Angeles, and the soft-on-criminals policies of District Attorney George Gascon are a major cause, Sheriff Alex Villanueva says. 

When Gascon took office in December 2020 as one of the successful candidates around the country supported by liberal financier George Soros, he issued a list of crimes that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office no longer would prosecute. 

Those changes are “unleashing a wave of crime by not prosecuting criminals who are victimizing poor people, people of color, people that live in the toughest neighborhoods in our communities,” Villanueva says. 

Villanueva, a lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department when he was elected sheriff in 2018, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain how Gascon’s policies led to criminals being released back onto the streets and how the “defund the police” movement has affected his workforce.

Also on today’s show, we cover these stories:

  • The Biden administration extends the mask mandate for many travelers, especially on planes and trains, for another 15 days.
  • President Joe Biden accuses Russia of committing genocide against the Ukrainian people.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott makes good on his promise to bus illegal immigrants to Washington, D.C.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: Los Angeles, California, has a growing reputation for rising crime, and for this, some blame the progressive policies of the county’s district attorney, George Gascon. Here with us to talk about that is Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Sheriff, thank you so much for being here.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva:
You got it, my pleasure. It’s a tall order to keep a county of 10 million safe and we need everybody doing their part. And right now, I don’t have a DA I can trust.

Allen: Share with us a little bit more about that, because like you said, you have a large team. You command the largest sheriff’s department in the United States and you’re doing that in a time when Los Angeles has a district attorney who came to power in 2020, he was elected in 2020, name is George Gascon, and he is what many call a progressive prosecutor, or what we at The Heritage Foundation call a rogue prosecutor. Explain a little bit about what changed in Los Angeles when Gascon was elected.

Villanueva: Well, you’ve got to realize that Gascon was riding a wave of these progressive reforms, if you want to call them reforms, that started way back in 2018.

Some of the reforms accelerated in 2020, that was a call for defunding law enforcement; a lot of the policies from the Board of Supervisors; Care First, Jails Last; alternatives to incarceration; diversion, reentry; a lot of these policies that were not backed by any sign that anyone was aware of and they just poured money into them because they sounded good and a bunch of 20-something-year-old woke wonders that worked for the Board of Supervisors decided this is how the taxpayer dollars should be spent.

Along comes Gascon, and he just rode that wave into office on the heels of the George Floyd murder. It went downhill from there, because he’s been systematically trying to dismantle the legislative intent in Sacramento by fiat.

Allen: OK, explain what you mean by that, that he’s trying to dismantle these former systems that were set up. How has crime been affected? I mean, get into some of these details here. Give us a picture of what it’s like on the ground and what has changed before and after Gascon was elected.

Well, before Gascon was elected, the district attorney represented the people. By representing the people, it was part of the adversarial nature of prosecution and defense. That’s why you have the scales of justice, the blind lady with a blindfold.

But he decided to represent defendants while the defendants already have their own counsel. Now, there’s no one prosecuting on behalf of the people anymore. I have a defense attorney who’s now masquerading as DA.

He started by nullifying a lot of the laws in Sacramento, for example, gun enhancements, gang enhancements, multiple-victim enhancements, not trying juveniles as adults when the crimes they commit are adult-type crimes. For example, not allowing deputy DAs to go to parole hearings to block the release on parole for people who are trying to sell the idea that they were not responsible for their crime.

So many of these things are having a very erosive impact on the ability to hold people accountable and we’re seeing it in the crime stats. I think we led the nation last year, a two-year jump of 94% in homicides, a 60% jump in grand theft auto. I think those are national leading numbers.

Allen: You mentioned enhancements. Those are essentially factors that are taken into consideration in sentencing. If someone commits a crime and they’re a part of a gang, there might be a harsher sentence, factors such as that. You also mentioned Gascon’s commitment to not try juveniles as adults. What do changes like that mean for you, for keeping peace on the streets, for the citizens of Los Angeles County? Why do those things actually matter?

Well, one thing is that the public, if they don’t see consequences for those who commit crime, they’re not going to be inclined to report being a victim of crime themselves because the bad guys are right back out on the street again, threatening their lives again.

I’ll give you a prime example, this was early on in Gascon’s first year in office in 2021, the case where a catering truck, you know, those food trucks? He was being extorted by a local gang. There were like four or five suspects who were arrested and they were being extorted with gun.

They were charged with the extortion, they were charged with the gun enhancement, the gang enhancement. They were looking at serious time, 10, 15 years in prison. Then as soon as they limited all the enhancements, the entire case was reduced to a simple extortion, meaning the person was ready to be released, the suspects were ready to be released, time served.

The victim, almost risking his life willing to be testifying against gang members, now is looking at the prospects of the same people being released from custody with no consequence. He probably feels betrayed by Gascon.

That’s one small example of how Gascon is allowing crime to pay.

Allen: And we know that this isn’t happening just in Los Angeles. There’s actually these progressive prosecutors in dozens of cities all over the United States that have really taken this very unique approach, you could say, to the way that crimes are or are not prosecuted.

Sheriff, why is a prosecutor like Gascon, why is he choosing to make these very drastic changes to laws that have been in place for years and years and years and to really the whole system of how we prosecute criminals in American cities?

Well, if you look at the relationship of George Soros and a lot of these Bay Area billionaires who probably have nothing better to do with their lives, I don’t know, maybe they have a guilty conscience. They somehow think that by eliminating consequences for committing crimes that they’re going to pay it forward or alleviate their guilt with those who are poorer segments of society.

But what they’re doing is they’re unleashing a wave of crime by not prosecuting criminals who are victimizing poor people, people of color, people that live in the toughest neighborhoods in our communities. They’re having to make peace with their tormentors, with the people that assault them, because it’s a revolving door, they’re in and out the same day, zero bail schedule.

All these things are coming to play and it’s having a very big impact on the perceptions of justice in our criminal justice system.

Allen: So you mean someone could commit a crime in Los Angeles, be arrested, but because of the policies that Gascon has in place, they wouldn’t be held, they would just be released even that same day?

Yes. In East LA, we have a case of a smash-and-grab at a local Nike store on Whittier Boulevard—four times, the same store. The same two suspects, who were released multiple times, go right back to the scene of the crime, repeat the crime all over again.

Then I’m going to have someone like Gascon claim, well, the data and the science tell us that putting these two individuals behind bars is not going to work, that it’s going to make them more prone to committing crime? That’s just a sick joke, really.

Allen: There is such an argument that you just said, people argue, “Well, we have all this incarceration and it’s not helping people and we need to change the system and we need reform.” I think to an extent, on both sides of the aisle, you have a level of people saying, “OK, yeah, we need reform.” There’s obviously disagreement on what that looks like.

If on one extreme side you have Gascon saying, “We’ll just let them back out onto the streets,” and obviously you’re saying, “No, that’s not effective, that doesn’t work,” what is the answer? Are there solutions to how you can actually really be, I guess, “reforming” these individuals? Do you think that’s possible?

Well, the sad truth is that trying to modify adult behavior is not a likely task. There’s plenty of real science behind that in different studies about modifying adult behavior, because once your personality’s developed, I think probably about the age of 7, you’re pretty much done in that regard.

You’re going to continue maturing, developing, but there’s a reason why we have Gladys R. admonitions when someone’s detained as a juvenile at the age of under 14—do they know right if from wrong? When we establish that, then we can detain them and petition the juvenile court for a trial, for example, for whatever the case may be.

But imagine someone who’s over the age of 14. Now, what about a 16-year-old, a 17-year-old? How developed are their brains compared to full capacity? Gascon keeps saying, “Oh, they have to reach the age of 25.” Well, I’m pretty satisfied once you’re at 80%, 90%, you know what you’re doing. I mean, who are we kidding here? They’re just playing semantics with information.

Allen: Yeah. Talk a little bit about the safety and crime rates in Los Angeles County right now. How have they changed since 2020, when Gascon was elected? How have the percentages of violent crimes and property crimes changed in Los Angeles County?

If I compare the same time period from 2020 to 2022, I’m looking at a 16.62% increase in violent crime. If I do a one-year comparison, ’21 to ’22, I’m looking at an 11% increase. Homicide, a two-year jump of 38.46%, assaults up 32%, grand theft auto up 61%, arson up 48%.

The only numbers that are down is forcible rape and robbery. Every other number is in the positive. So [those aren’t] very encouraging numbers, to say the least.

Allen: Which category of crime in LA are you most concerned about?

Well, the grand theft auto and the murder rate, from pre-pandemic, ’19 to ’21, it jumped 94%, as I said, and grand theft auto up 60%. Those numbers are historically just enormous statistical jumps, but we’ve seen it throughout the United States. Ours is just that much higher than the national average for metropolitan areas.

But now that the pandemic is settling, now we’re starting to see a reemergence of traditional crime patterns. For example, burglaries are now up 22%.

Comparing last year to this year, there are more people going to work. Houses are empty now, homes are empty, burglars are back at work doing their business as well. Whereas during the pandemic, burglaries were down quite a bit, domestic violence down, rape down, because too many people at home, too many witnesses.

Allen: I see. OK, interesting.

How do these kind of progressive policies and the policies of Gascon, how does that affect you and the men and women who serve under you as law enforcement? Because obviously, … the individuals who become victims to these crimes, these effects are huge for them. From a law enforcement perspective, how does this change your day-to-day and the way that you-all have to go about combating crime on the streets of Los Angeles?

Villanueva: Well, we’re seeing in video after video of these smash-and-grab robberies, you see the one guy who goes on a mountain bike into a drugstore, a CVS, and fills up an entire trash bag and just pedals out of the store with it.

I have friends in the restaurant business, they lose a fortune every night. They’ll have an entire table of six or eight walk away, laughing, and stiff the bill.

Mom-and-pop businesses are suffering at the hand of this Prop 47 and Gascon’s approach to Prop 47. We’re seeing that throughout the county. It’s been taking an enormous toll on our working-class families, our mom-and-pop businesses, even the big retailers now are starting to feel the pinch and they’re starting to close down operations because it’s hitting their bottom line as well.

All these progressive policies have been an absolute failure and they have zero, and I have to emphasize this, they have zero evidence of anything working. They need to get out of their little woke bubble that they put themselves in and start explaining where’s the evidence that their policies work.

Allen: You mentioned Prop 47. Explain that for us briefly, if you would.

Prop 47 was a voter initiative that had a fancy title that was fake, like, “somehow make California safer,” I can’t remember exactly how it was worded, but it lowered the consequences for being involved in crime.

It made most drug possessions from felonies to misdemeanors, it got rid of petty theft with a prior crime, it elevated the threshold for a theft to make it from misdemeanor to a felony, from $400 to $950, and it lowered the consequences to so many things.

The co-author of that was none other than George Gascon—you can’t make this stuff up. Then when he gets into office, not only did it lower the consequences for so many crimes with Prop 47, then he decides as a DA not to prosecute the misdemeanor crimes either. He really did a double whammy on LA County residents.

Allen: Have you had any opportunity to sit down with Gascon and tell him how his policies are affecting you and the men and women who serve under you and all of the people of Los Angeles County?

Apparently, I didn’t rate high enough, because he only sat down with Black Lives Matter LA, a few anarchists. Public defenders who wanted LA to burn down, they became his senior advisers. I think he had one that said wore a T-shirt that read “Burn, Baby, Burn” or something to that effect. Those are the only people that had his ear. The criminal justice system and the partners were of no concern to George Gascon when he took office.

Allen: When he came into office, he met with Black Lives Matter, but he did not meet with you, correct?

Villanueva: Nope.

Allen: OK.

Nope. In fact, he was very proud of that fact that he was not going to meet. He even meet with his own personnel, his own district attorneys, which is so bizarre. I don’t even know how to explain that.

My first day in office, when I was sworn in, I met with all of my command staff at the rank of lieutenant and above, that was about 450 of us. Of course, I had to meet with my personnel first.

Allen: If you could, if Gascon called tomorrow and said, “Hey, let’s sit down, let’s have lunch,” what would you say to him?

Well, I’m real curious now. I’d take him up on the offer. I’d like to see what’s wrong with his head.

Allen: Are there any question you would want to ask him?

Why? I mean, he was an executive, he was the chief of police at one point, and he was an assistant chief for a deputy chief with LAPD, so he knows how big organizations work. There’s ways to reform. Just the path he chose is so destructive that ultimately he’ll end up achieving less his way than he would’ve done had he used a collaborative method.

Allen: What’s step one to make the streets of LA safer?

Get rid of zero bail schedule, definitely step one. We need to get a new DA who’s going to be willing to prosecute crime. In fact, probably ahead of both of those is stop defunding the Sheriff’s Department. We’re so understaffed right now, we’re literally running out of Peters to rob to pay Paul.

Allen: Your department has been defunded, has been affected by these calls to defund the police.

Oh my God, we’ve been defunded massively. Right now, I lost 1,281 positions on my budget, then they did a hiring freeze, and now I have an additional 927 sworn vacancies that I can’t fill because the board has given me a starvation diet of academy classes. It’s not keeping up with attrition, so the gap is getting bigger every day and I just need more deputies.

Allen: How do you keep morale up among your deputies when they’re looking around and seeing that you’re so short staffed?

Well, deputies are excited to work with the Sheriff’s Department and I’m supporting their good work. I hold them accountable when they cross the line, but the fact that I actually will speak up on their behalf is something the political establishment will never do, because they’re not considered, I guess, acceptable in their cocktail parties where they bash law enforcement. I do the exact opposite and I think the folks on the front lines appreciate that.

It’s not an easy job under normal circumstances, but to have the whole anti-authoritarian streak from activists and then politicians echo their message and actually try to defund us, it’s a tough call, but I think people underestimate the resilience of the department and just the hard work of deputies out there.

Allen: Excellent. Sheriff Alex Villanueva of Los Angeles, thank you, sir, so much for your time today. We really appreciate you joining.

You got it.

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