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Ganging Up on Crime

March 03, 1985

Citizens, clergy members and politicians joined battle at a landmark community meeting on Thursday to try to rout drug dealers, car thieves, muggers, rapists and murderers from their neighborhoods. Their strategy may be overly ambitious, but there was no questioning their resolve or their growing influence as the leaders of the United Neighborhoods Organization and the South-Central Organizing Committee outlined the problem and won pledges from state, city and county political and religious leaders to be part of the solution.

Befitting a Congress of Religious Leaders, first the people bore witness. A storekeeper told of escaping death only because four crooks who held guns to his head fell to arguing among themselves. A priest had watched a 15-year-old boy die on the church stairs at Our Lady of Guadalupe in East Los Angeles not three weeks earlier. A woman recalled the random killing of a girl who once belonged to the Holy Spirit Choir that sang at Thursday's session. Even Cardinal Timothy Manning, well aware that people are killed virtually on his doorstep, spoke of having his home invaded three times and once finding an uninvited man sleeping on the couch in his sitting room.

To try to stunt the growth of crime in Los Angeles, the politicians and religious leaders ratified an anti-crime strategy that had been carefully developed by UNO and SCOC. That plan includes a "combat-zone strategy" of coordinated action against suppressible crimes, such as drug sales and gang violence, with financing from increased state and county taxes on liquor, beer and wine.

The plan would also channel leftover money from the Olympic Games into sports programs for young people, crack down on Californians who evade an estimated $2 billion in taxes every year to provide money for crime prevention and public schools, and increase staffs of federal agencies that enforce drug laws.

The strategy will doubtless get its best results from elements most subject to local influence and pressure--local law-enforcement agencies and the Los Angeles Olympic Committee's Amateur Athletics Foundation. It's going to be harder to clamp down on tax cheats or to ensure federal drug agency coordination, although these elements obviously must be part of any anti-crime strategy. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley charged, for example, that the federal government is transferring customs agents out of the local ports rather than beefing up drug controls.

The politicians produced a few ideas but not many specifics on how they could be implemented. Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner promised to corral probation violators before they can commit serious crimes, but he did not say where he would find jails in which to put them. California Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp suggested an urban counterpart to the successful California Conservation Corps, a "state gang" to offer youngsters more than jacket emblems, colorful shoelaces and an early death. Members of this Urban Conservation Corps would work with neighborhood youngsters on survival skills, and help with bicycle licensing and finger printing children for future identification needs.

The key to the success of the first four points of the anti-crime plan may be its fifth point: the organization of churches, synagogues and others into permanent pressure groups "to force meaningful change." As George Aliano, president of the Police Protective Assn., told the meeting, there are more good people than bad, and--unlike the criminals--the good people don't have to smuggle in their resources. Certainly the groups were there: Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist and Scientologist, among others. Enough to do the job, if the job can be done.

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