(Bloomberg) -- Karen Bass, an early frontrunner for Los Angeles mayor, said she would get tough on crime and reform policing to address a spike in violence across the U.S.’s second-largest city.
Bass said another top priority is addressing the city’s worsening homeless crisis by fighting for recognition at the federal level that it’s an emergency, a step that would free up more resources.
“People around the city do not feel safe,” said Bass, a six-term Democratic congresswoman representing a Los Angeles district. “There is a feeling of fear in the city. It’s very reminiscent to me of where the city was in the ’80s and the ’90s,” she said, referring to a period in which the city was in a grip of a crack-cocaine epidemic.
Several high-profile incidents have reinforced residents’ concerns over public safety, making it a central topic in this year’s mayoral race. In December, philanthropist Jacqueline Avant -- the mother-in-law of Netflix Inc. co-Chief Executive Officer Ted Sarandos -- was murdered. Shortly after, a woman at a furniture store along a busy shopping corridor was stabbed and killed and a teenage girl’s body was found at a freeway offramp.
More than 40% of Angelenos view crime as a major worry, according to a recent poll. The city saw a 12% increase in homicides in 2021, rising to 397 -- the highest level in 15 years.
“It has just exploded into what I feel is a public health and a public safety emergency,” Bass said.
Policing has also been a priority for Bass during her time in the U.S. House. She’s an author of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The legislation, which stalled in the Senate, was intended to boost police accountability and change the culture of law enforcement. Among other steps it would have banned federal drug officers from entering a premises without knocking and withheld funds from local law enforcement organizations that deploy chockholds.
Los Angeles was a primary setting for protests after George Floyd was killed in May 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer -- some of which were held outside the mayor’s house. The city soon cut $150 million from the Los Angeles Police Department’s budget. Bass, meanwhile, has been critical of the slogan -- and idea behind -- “defund the police.”
She said she wants to recruit civilian workers to fill desk jobs at the city’s police department so more officers can patrol the streets. She also wants to fully staff the department to its authorized force of 9,700.
Crime is also a key issue for Bass’s rivals for the mayor’s office. Rick Caruso, a billionaire real estate developer and former president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, has criticized a voter-approved state law that reduced sentences for some nonviolent crimes, saying it’s sent a message to criminals that there are no consequences.
Regarding homelessness, Caruso has said he’d use emergency powers to clear encampments and provide low-cost shelter for 30,000 people. Homelessness has worsened during the tenure of longtime Mayor Eric Garcetti. Encampments are common above and below freeway interchanges. In 2020, the last time Los Angeles conducted a count of the unhoused, 66,436 people were found to be living on the street across the county, a 13% increase from a year earlier.
“A state of emergency at the city level is not enough,” Bass said. “I’d like to see the problem of the unhoused, of homeless viewed like a natural disaster. It’s a man-made disaster.”
The congresswoman, who grew up in the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Venice and Fairfax, started out as a community activist. The 68-year-old former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus was the first African-American woman to serve as speaker of the California State Assembly. President Joe Biden considered her as a potential running mate in 2020.
Bass was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a mayor’s race that also includes LA Councilmembers Kevin de Leon and Joe Buscaino and City Attorney Mike Feuer. A recent survey from Loyola Marymount University indicated Bass was supported by 16.1% of registered voters compared to 12.1% for de Leon.
“Bass is clearly in the lead,” said Fernando Guerra, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles. But it’s early in the campaign, he added, noting that many voters tend to decide late in mayoral races. The poll found 42% undecided and was conducted before Caruso formally entered the race.
The primary is June 7, and the general election is Nov. 8. The LA mayor’s office is nonpartisan. Garcetti cannot run again due to term limits and is Biden’s pick for ambassador to India. Garcetti, however, has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the position.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.