Capitol Alert

Why cops like Antonio Villaraigosa and not Gavin Newsom

California organizations representing both police chiefs and rank-and-file officers put their law enforcement muscle behind Antonio Villaraigosa’s campaign for governor on Monday, contending that his Democratic rival, Gavin Newsom, supported criminal justice and public safety measures that are anathema to their priorities.

The California Police Chiefs Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California pointed to Villaraigosa’s record as mayor of Los Angeles, where crime dropped amid an increase in police ranks, as well as his opposition to eliminating cash bail and Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 prison realignment push. Villaraigosa told the law enforcement leaders that he was open to reviewing the data to see if it warranted dialing back the initiatives that cops believe went too far.

The head of the police chiefs also cited the group’s opposition to Newsom’s marijuana legalization bid and said his 2016 gun-control measure was unnecessary given the changes pushed in the Legislature that year. “Was the initiative necessary, or was it for the purposes of politics?” asked Edward Medrano, president of the police chief’s organization.

Medrano said the totality of the recent changes – “realignment” that cut the state’s prison population by shifting certain felons to county jails; Proposition 47 that reduced some drug and property crimes to misdemeanors from felonies and Proposition 57 that created additional ways for inmates to receive early release – are still unknown. Californians, Medrano argued, have endured enough social experimentation over the last seven years.

“We felt much more confident that Mayor Villaraigosa was more in line with how we felt on the issues because of his role not only as speaker of the Assembly but also as a mayor of Los Angeles, which is a massive city to run. He understands not only from the legislative standpoint, but from running the day-to-day operations of a major city.”

The endorsements represent support not only from the chiefs, but from the workers they supervise. Even in the depths of recession, Villaraigosa refused to lay off officers in Los Angeles.

Newsom, the lieutenant governor and former San Francisco mayor, and Villaraigosa lead in public polls. Newsom has won endorsements from firefighters, teachers and nurses, giving him a clear edge among organized labor. In addition to leading the weed legalization and ammunition-control ballot campaigns in 2016, he’s established his brand by being out front on issues favored by liberal Democrats: He was the only statewide elected official to endorse Proposition 47 and joined fairly early in the cause to eliminate cash bail.

Newsom spokesman Nathan Click said the campaign has the highest respect for those who put their lives on line to protect public safety.

“That said, political opposition to common-sense gun safety and criminal justice reforms is on the wrong side of history – not to mention out of step with a majority of Californians,” Click said.

“We’re not surprised they are supporting a candidate who defends our broken criminal justice system and carries water for the private prison and bail bond industries.”

But Villaraigosa’s supporters, including the bail bond and private prison industry who contributed to his campaigns, expect him to play up his public safety cred.

Brian Marvel, the head of Peace Officers Research Association of California, the largest law enforcement organization in the state, said his organization would be rolling out an independent expenditure committee to back Villaraigosa.

Not only would the tougher-on-crime stances sell well to the general public, Marvel told reporters on Monday, but they may also help him win over elusive Republican voters.

“I think Antonio will be a very good candidate that can cross over, and be able to pull some of those people,” he said. Public safety “is a shared responsibility and it resonates. I think people want to be safe in their communities, and having law enforcement getting out there (and) being active in their communities is what they want” done.

“But, on the converse, we need somebody who is willing to actively support that – and not just talk about it.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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