Los Angeles' two top cops endorsed Republican Dan Lungren's bid for state attorney general Wednesday, triggering a debate over whether Lungren or his Democratic opponent, Arlo Smith, can claim top bragging rights to the crucial support of California's vast law enforcement community. In announcing their support for Lungren, Sheriff Sherman Block and Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates cited the former five-term congressman's personal character and his aggressive anti-crime stance.
"I believe him to be an individual with impeccable integrity and credibility and one who will serve the cause of justice in this state," Block said at a Burbank news conference. "During the time he served in Congress he was always available and always responsive."
Echoed Gates: "(Lungren) will look at the problems of crime, of gangs, of narcotics in California and aggressively beat those problems." Both Block and Gates are Republicans.
Later in the day, law enforcement officers backing Smith held press conferences in Los Angeles and Sacramento to reaffirm their support for the 11-year San Francisco district attorney. Among them was Mel Jones, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, whose 7,000 members work for Block.
"Voters are faced with a distinct choice for attorney general--a law enforcement professional with 36 years' experience prosecuting criminals or a politician who has never prosecuted a case," said Jones, speaking on the steps of the downtown Criminal Courts Building. "Dan Lungren could only qualify for an entry-level position in the attorney general's office if he were to apply for a job instead of run for one."
In their effort to counter Lungren, Smith backers in Sacramento went so far as to trot out a dog owned by Smith's press secretary to poke fun at the Republican's campaign biography. The 4-year-old collie, they said, recently received a membership card from the Washington-based Assn. of Federal Investigators, which once awarded a "Legislator of the Year" honor to Lungren.
As the November election nears, the two candidates for the state's top law enforcement position have placed a high priority on endorsements from the plethora of police organizations across the state and nation.
In general, Lungren, who helped draft and win passage of major anti-crime legislation while in Congress, has won the backing of most management-oriented California police organizations. Smith, who once headed the criminal division of the state attorney general's office, has been endorsed by some of the largest police rank-and-file labor organizations.
Lungren called Wednesday's endorsements by the high-profile Block and Gates--as well as those from organizations such as the California Police Chiefs Assn. and the California State Police Assn.--among "the most important" events of the campaign.
"With the help of the people that they represent, I intend to help lead a fight in this state to make sure we balance the score on the side of the law-abiding," said Lungren. "I want to shine the light of day on the shenanigans that go on in Sacramento in the Legislature that ensure . . . the cries of (crime) victims and the urgings of law enforcement are not heard."
Lungren also pledged to fight for stiffer sanctions against casual drug users, although he stopped far short of backing Gates' recent controversial remarks to a U.S. Senate committee that casual users should be shot.