George Gascón’s Journey From Good Cop to Bad Prosecutor

The progressive darling began his career cracking down on crime in L.A.

George Gascón (D.) / Getty Images
September 10, 2022

Before he became one the nation’s most radical prosecutors, Los Angeles County district attorney George Gascón served as the "right arm" to LAPD chief William Bratton in the heyday of broken-windows policing.

From 1987 to 2006, Gascón was as dedicated to a tough-on-crime approach as he was to Bratton, who called his assistant chief "my Patton." His aggressive shift to the left, first as district attorney of San Francisco and now as Los Angeles's top prosecutor, is a far cry from his earlier positions. But the transformation from Bratton acolyte to George Soros-backed prosecutor hasn’t surprised those who knew Gascón during his police days.

"I don’t think Gascón believes any of this stuff," Thomas Marchetti, a former detective and 26-year veteran of the LAPD who served under him, told the Washington Free Beacon. "He’s a chameleon."

"No one trusted him," said former sergeant Steve Meagher, who served 2 of his 33 years in the department under Gascón, describing the future prosecutor as a striver: "It was all about him, all the time."

Gascón’s shift to the left has landed him in hot water. He now faces a recall over his handling of crime in Los Angeles. Since his election in 2020, Gascón has drastically reduced prosecutions, often at the expense of public safety. Homicides reached a 15-year high in Los Angeles in 2022.

For his part, Bratton is "perplexed" by Gascón’s shift to radical prosecutor but maintains he "was an outstanding police leader." He says Gascón, like many Soros prosecutors, may be well intentioned but is "creating a system that is incredibly unfair to minorities" and "increasing the victimization rate."

The liberal megadonor donated nearly $5 million to Gascón, who was elected along with dozens of left-wing prosecutors on a platform to reduce incarceration. After taking office, he set about scrapping many of the harsh sentences he had defended as a cop—including California’s three-strikes law for repeat offenders and enhancements for violent gang members. In his inauguration speech, Gascón said many "tough-on-crime policies" had "backfired" and were even "harming community safety."

But that’s not how Gascón saw it as he rose through the ranks of the LAPD. Gascón, who became assistant chief of police in 2003, targeted dangerous repeat offenders and grilled subordinates about petty crimes. At the time, the department was rolling out CompStat, a crime database that helped officers track violent and quality-of-life offenses. Commanding officers held regular meetings to keep subordinates accountable.

Bratton piloted CompStat as police commissioner in New York City to great success in the 1990s. Using it as police chief in Los Angeles a decade later, he drove violent crime down more than 50 percent. A Harvard University study found 83 percent of residents approved of the LAPD when Bratton retired in 2009. Most Angelenos no longer rated crime as an issue, whether they were black, white, Hispanic, or Asian.

The success didn't stop Gascón from switching sides. In 2006, he became police chief of Mesa, Ariz., where his public clashes with Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio over immigration enforcement made him an unexpected celebrity and growing ally of the left. In his final year, Gascón accepted an invitation from Democratic Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) to testify in House Judiciary Committee hearings on illegal immigration.

The move would prove a boon to Gascón’s career. Once a registered Republican, Gascón shed his party affiliation when he left Mesa to become San Francisco’s top cop in 2009. He strengthened ties with then-mayor Gavin Newsom, who appointed him as prosecutor over the city two years later, even though he had no legal experience.

When asked about the sharp difference between his years as a cop and prosecutor, Gascón told the Free Beacon he "was wrong back then."

"We were all wrong," Gascón said. "Since then, we’ve developed research and data that proves these policies have driven mass incarceration and not made us any safer."

One of his former colleagues has a different explanation.

"He wanted to build his own legacy," a former deputy chief and 42-year veteran of the LAPD said of Gascón’s turn to the left. "I think he did reduce crime. But he reduced crime through intimidation."

Gascón’s caustic demeanor seems to be the one thing that followed him through his ideological journey. He excelled at "manipulating the system," the deputy chief told the Free Beacon, frequently working outside his chain of command to curry favor with top brass. At the same time, he humiliated his subordinates and at times made threats.

"If you try to screw over Bratton," Gascón reportedly told officers at a CompStat meeting in the mid-2000s, "I will personally knife you up."

One officer who spoke with the Free Beacon on the condition of anonymity was relocated after challenging Gascón.

Deputy prosecutors sued Gascón over his sentencing policies after he became district attorney in Los Angeles. In some cases, Gascón retaliated by demoting them. He also turned on the LAPD and pledged to prosecute use-of-force cases reaching back to 2012.

The conflict has generated further publicity as deputies and officers have joined in a recall campaign against the prosecutor that now hangs by a thread. In August, more than half-a-million voters signed a petition to oust the prosecutor, falling just short of the required number. The Los Angeles County registrar is currently reviewing tens of thousands of signatures that were initially rejected. If enough are validated, it will trigger a special election.

Update 9/12/2022 at 11:43 a.m.: This article has been updated.