In the newest episode of The Layover With LAAPOA video podcast, LAAPOA President Marshall McClain sits down with Los Angeles City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino.
Buscaino, a first-generation Italian-American, is a lifelong San Pedro resident and a longtime public servant who has dedicated three decades to the City of Los Angeles — a career that started with his first adult job with the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks. He then proudly served as a police officer with the LAPD for 15 years before retiring as a sergeant. Since 2012, he has represented Los Angeles City Council District 15, which includes his hometown of San Pedro as well as the communities of Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Watts and Wilmington. He now has his sights set on serving and giving back to the city as mayor.
Tune in to learn more about Buscaino, his aspirations, his experiences as a police officer-turned-politician and much more. The episode can be viewed here.
Here are a few highlights from the episode:
Buscaino’s parents emigrated from Sicily to San Pedro in the late 1960s in pursuit of the American dream. He shares that they came to the port because the then-lucrative fishing industry offered them an opportunity to escape poverty and tough times in Italy. His father became a commercial fisherman and his mother worked at the canneries. “My dad would bring in the catch and unload at the canneries, and my mom would skin and can the tuna,” he shares. “They would come home smelling like fish, and they reminded me and my sisters that ‘that’s the smell of money.’” Buscaino says his parents’ work ethic shaped him immensely. “They instilled in me the importance of working hard, having faith and trust in God, following the law and being a good person,” he says of the values that drive him every day.
Recruited From the Baseball Field
In college, Buscaino got his first adult job working for the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks. He managed youth and adult recreational programs and camps for the park in San Pedro, where he’d grown up playing sports. Buscaino shares that it was this job that opened the door to his career with the LAPD, recounting the story of how he was approached on the park’s baseball diamond by the man who would become his mentor: Pat Gannon, former deputy executive director of Security and Public Safety for Los Angeles World Airports and former deputy chief for LAPD’s Operations–South Bureau.
One day, Gannon, who at the time was a sergeant at Harbor Station, observed Buscaino officiating and umpiring an adult softball game. Buscaino started the game by telling the players to have a good game and reminding them not to use profanity or they’d be thrown out. During the game, “one guy was not happy with a call I made and he cursed me out. Sure enough, I threw him out, ejected him,” Buscaino says, adding that when the man came up to his face, he remained calm and collected. Gannon witnessed Buscaino’s cool demeanor as a player on the opposing team. “Pat comes up to me after the game and says, ‘You handled yourself well and you’re a community guy; we need to recruit you and hire you at the LAPD,’” recalled Buscaino, who told Gannon that although he had never thought about being a police officer, he was interested in learning more. Gannon took Buscaino on a number of ride-alongs and arranged a few more in other parts of the city. “I was hooked,” Buscaino said. “I felt that, if I could leave a mark by protecting and serving the people of Los Angeles, count me in.”
Buscaino says the most rewarding assignment he had during his 15 years with the LAPD was as the senior lead officer for the basic car area in San Pedro (Harbor Division). He said people in the neighborhood came up to him all the time while he was on and off duty to discuss safety issues and other concerns in the community. “To have that sense of trust and confidence and to have people come to you with quality-of-life concerns is very rewarding,” he says.
From Police Officer to Politician
Buscaino saw an opportunity to serve the City of Los Angeles as a councilmember when Janice Hahn vacated her CD 15 seat when she was elected to Congress in 2011. “I know the quality-of-life issues, and I know what needs to be done in order to prevent crime. I also was in the forefront of putting bad guys in jail who were preying among the most vulnerable,” he says. “I was being encouraged by my neighborhood watch groups, my business watch groups and family members, but they told me, ‘I don’t know if a police officer can get elected to City Council.’” In the race for CD 15, Buscaino, a political newcomer with no City Hall connections (he referred to himself as an “average Joe”), faced off against Assemblymember Warren Furutani, who was backed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party establishment. “I was up against a lot of money, a lot of special interests, and I was just a local guy wanting to do good, wanting to improve the quality of life,” he says. Buscaino defeated Furutani in a runoff in January 2012, securing the CD 15 seat he still holds today and proving that police officers can get elected to the City Council.
Public Safety First
Buscaino says he comes at the job of councilmember with a “public safety first” mindset and uses his experiences as a police officer to inform how he addresses and solves the city’s biggest issues, from basic quality-of-life issues and homelessness to rising crime and gang violence. Buscaino, who is an LAPD reserve officer, also stands up for public safety by ensuring that law enforcement is supported in their efforts to protect the city. For example, in 2020, he renewed the call for L.A. City park rangers and security officers to be armed so that they can better protect and defend themselves from the inherent dangers of the job and, in turn, keep communities safer.
Making a Difference
When asked about what he’d like his legacy to be, Buscaino refers back to his upbringing and the values instilled in him by his parents. “Just knowing that I left a mark in people’s lives, just knowing that I improved the quality of life in my years of service,” he says. “I’ve dedicated 30 of my 47 years to this city — from my days at the Recreation and Parks Department to LAPD and as a councilmember. At the end of the day, I think that’s all our goal … to make sure you help people and improve folks’ quality of life, and I felt that I’ve done that.”