Jackie Lacey is the first woman and the first African American to be Los Angeles County’s District Attorney. She was first elected four years ago, and her name appears on next month’s ballot. She’s running uncontested and after the election, she’ll still be D.A.
She spoke with Warren Olney on “Olney in LA,” about her past four years in office and some of the challenges she faces in running a department of more than 1000 prosecuting attorneys, 300 investigators and 800 clerical and support staff.
Warren Olney: You have often said that your office is supposed to be race neutral, but history shows that our society and the rest of the criminal justice system is not race neutral. It’s a lot harder on blacks and other minorities than it is on white people. What are you doing about that?
Jackie Lacey: Our office does its very best to make sure that the policy makers reflect the diversity of the community. So if you look, our office is probably the most diverse population of prosecutors if not in California and maybe throughout the United States. I think that helps because you want the perspective of a lot of different people at the table. I think in diversity there’s strength and people take their jobs seriously, there’s the least likelihood of bias. I also think that it helps the community’s confidence to see that our office is as diverse as it is, in terms of making decisions about everything from what’s filed to what’s not filed, and certainly to what type of sentences are incurred. I, as an African American woman of course, grew up in Los Angeles, in South LA and am very much aware of biases and while we don’t have a perfect office, or a perfect system we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it is as bias free as it can humanely, possibly be.
Proposition 47 reduced some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors in order to help ease prison overcrowding, lead to alternative kinds of treatment and also to save money. Other district attorneys and some of your own prosecutors claim that it has led to an increase in crime. Do you agree with that?
I haven’t seen the data supporting that. There is an increase in crime, particularly property crime. I think the Public Policy Institute has noted that. I’m not sure if they attribute it to Prop 47 or AB-109 which is prison realignment. But we’re definitely seeing an increase in crime and we ought to pay attention to it. But I think we also owe it to the public to examine each case and look to see where the person was and what they were doing in terms of the criminal justice system before they committed the crime in order to draw that conclusion, that Prop 47 is responsible. It may be responsible and it may not. But I would love to see the data but I think more importantly, I think it’s my job to continue to look for ways to discourage people from committing crimes. Obviously there’s a deterrent effect asking for custody time, but also addressing any issues such as addiction that may be causing someone to get out there and commit property crimes.
Presumably Prop 47 is saving money, that is one of the things it was supposed to do. Is the money being saved, being well used?
I think that’s in dispute, how much has been saved. We were expecting a lot of money and now we’re hearing from the state that it was only $20 million dollars that we saved. One thing that needs to be included in the equation, is if something can save money but leave our community a lot less safer and so the cost of crime to victims has to be factored into that and sometimes it can’t be measured in dollars and cents. So I think it’s yet to be determined how much money is saved and more importantly what of that money will be channeled into the places that were promised, such as education, helping victims and creating treatment programs for those people who are mentally ill and/or drug addicted.
The Sheriff wants to build a big jail. That a lot of people say is going to be too big, larger and more expensive (in part because of Prop 47) than we actually need. What do you think?
You remember the Board of Supervisors got an independent company to do an assessment and quite frankly I was sort of convinced by the assessment that I saw, that a larger facility may be necessary, may be important. I just happen to believe that the facility shouldn’t necessarily be used to house people who have mental illness. I just think there should be other avenues or other alternatives that we should look for, for those who have a mental illness. But there’s no question about it we’re a large county, 10 million people and we’re probably going to need, as they say, in the movie “Jaws,” a bigger boat.
Chief Beck has recommended prosecution of the LAPD officer who shot and killed an unarmed man in Venice last year. That was a long time ago, it’s been said that you will anger other cops if you file charges and anger community groups if you don’t. Obviously now it won’t have an impact on your re-election so why not decide now and face the music?
Well because it’s not being decided for political reasons. It would be improper for the D.A. to decide any criminal case based on the anger or the outrage of the community or the anger and the outrage of law enforcement, or at the request of the Chief of Police. We are going through a very methodical review of the evidence that was given to us by LAPD. We will undoubtedly seek an independent review of the evidence and really that’s what’s determining the amount of time that it s taking to review it. We were given the case sometime around Christmas Eve of 2015 and LAPD conducted their review. Now it’s time for us to conduct our review.
It’s very rare for an officer to be prosecuted in Los Angeles, by comparison to some other cities which have prosecuted more. Why is that?
Well, it’s not a matter of quotas or numbers, we take a very careful view. I’m not sure that the public is aware, but we have in fact prosecuted several officers for violating the law both on duty and off duty.
Kamala Harris might be elected to the U.S. Senate, if so, would you run for State Attorney General?
Absolutely not. Being District Attorney of LA County is one of the best jobs in the country as far as I’m concerned and I have no interest in seeking any other office and am grateful that I’m going to be allowed to be the District Attorney for another term.