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For L.A.'s Safety, Pass Proposition 1 : More cops mean less crime, as Chief Williams showed us

April 20, 1993

There are at least 3.5 million reasons to vote yes today on Proposition 1, the special property tax to finance the hiring of an additional 1,000 cops. The 3.5 million represent the population of Los Angeles, which spent, for the most part, a calm and safe week during and after the jury deliberations in the Rodney King federal civil-rights case because of the usually high police presence.

Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams, who masterminded the formidable show of force, sent a message that could not be ignored. This time the LAPD would protect the 3.5 million people who live in the city, in reassuring contrast to the absence of police officers during last year's riots.

The chief put 6,000 officers on the streets during the buildup. That maximum deployment reduced crime significantly. During the first five days of jury deliberations, homicides dropped by 20%, and assaults and robberies each fell by 10%. No murders were reported, for example, in the city for one 24-hour respite. None were reported for a 72-hour stretch last week in the county, where the Sheriff's Department was also on high alert. Typically, those two jurisdictions average at least four homicides per day.

The chief would like to put 6,000 uniformed cops on duty every day. That's currently impossible with a force of 7,610 LAPD officers. More than half are assigned to uniformed duty and fielded over three eight-hour watches seven days a week. The rest are mainly assigned to department investigative functions. Sustaining a massive deployment requires assigning most officers to uniform patrol.

Violence-weary voters can help by approving Proposition 1. It needs more than routine approval. Because it is a property tax, it needs a two-thirds vote. If nothing else on the ballot inspires voters to go to the polls, this measure should. Especially after the week Los Angeles just had--blissfully uneventful when it comes to violence.

The measure would allow the LAPD to increase the force up to 8,900 officers. Every additional officer would be assigned in uniform to the streets, according to the chief. More police officers would reduce the pervasive fear of crime.

The measure would increase the average property tax bill by perhaps $6 a month. That's clearly a worthy investment considering the positive effect the increased number of police had last week in Los Angeles. As the chief put it: "Safety and security do cost."

Consider the costs of doing nothing. Heightened fear of crime can drive investments away from Los Angeles. Either the city can pay for the police force it needs to deter crime, or it can pay for the high price of undeterred crime.

Although public safety is a job best left to trained police officers, many Angelenos bought guns in anticipation of more civil unrest. Chief Williams has appealed to these frightened residents to return their unused guns to stores or to turn them in, fearing that those weapons will fall into the hands of criminals and raise the death count in Los Angeles. If history guides, his concern is well founded.

Confidence in Chief Williams and the LAPD is justifiably high. Now's the time to approve more police when the chief can put the additional officers to good use. A two-thirds Yes vote on Proposition 1 would allow the LAPD to do a better job of protecting and serving Los Angeles during a crisis and every day.

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