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A Thicker Blue Line for America

August 29, 1993

A thinning blue line stands between urban America and a rising rate of violent crime. Every big city needs more cops. The Los Angeles Police Department could easily use an additional 3,000 officers just to keep pace with the criminals. Another 5,000 or so would allow the LAPD to adopt a powerful community policing program that would prevent many crimes. But tight municipal budgets have made beefing up police forces a step that few cities can afford.

As fear of crime threatens to generate a national crisis, substantial federal help is needed. A national police corps could put as many as 80,000 additional officers into local police departments. Modeled after the ROTC program, which awards college scholarships in exchange for a commitment of military service, the police corps similarly would aid students. After graduation they would be obligated to spend four years working, for pay, in their local police departments. The students would benefit. The police departments would benefit. And law-abiding citizens would benefit.

President Clinton endorses the concept, and his anti-crime package refers to it. Congressional Republicans and Democrats also support the idea, though in different forms. The House and Senate are expected to consider competing proposals. The sticking points are how the police corps would work, how many students would become officers, how much it would cost and where that money would come from.

The most ambitious proposal--recommended by Adam Walinsky, a onetime Robert F. Kennedy aide who came up with the police corps concept--would cost an estimated $1.6 billion annually. That amount would allow the police corps to build up to 20,000 graduates a year, so that eventually 80,000 would be in service at one time. The allocation would pay for college scholarships, 16 weeks of federal law enforcement training and subsidies to help local departments defray the cost of hiring the additional officers. Because typical police corps officers would be short-timers who would not collect pensions, they would cost a department less in benefits than other members of the force; they also generally would receive lower salaries.

Walinsky's plan packs a wallop that would make a big difference in Los Angeles and many other communities. His recommendations provide a good starting point for debate.

When Congress returns to Washington, surely Republicans and Democrats can find common ground for an ambitious police corps plan. With President Clinton's help, they must also find the money. Watering down the police corps to 2,000 officers, as some propose, would not adequately serve a nation increasingly pummeled by violent crime.

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