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Law Enforcement and New Reality of L.A. Politics

September 08, 1993|BILL BOYARSKY

One of the Los Angeles City Council's most liberal members, Zev Yaroslavsky, recently offered a proposal that sounds like it comes from the Far Right--using federal troops in L.A. to fight crime.

"Let me pose the provocative question," Yaroslavsky said on Century Cable's "Week in Review" last month.

"You know, when George Bush sent the Marines into Mogadishu (Somalia), he explained that the reason for sending in the military was the following: We want to restore normalcy. Bands of marauding gangs are making it impossible for the people of Somalia to carry on their business. He could have been talking about Los Angeles.

"I don't know what our Army is doing that is so important or what our National Guard is doing that is so important. But perhaps we can bring some of those folks in and relieve some of our (police) officers who are doing things that are not directly related to patrol. And perhaps we can even use some of the military to assist in providing greater security to our community."

At first glance, this doesn't seem like a great idea when the Army is having so much trouble catching Somali warlord Mohammed Aidid. And who needs more helicopters in the sky?

Yaroslavsky is, of course, shrewd enough to know that the idea probably wouldn't fly. But for him to float it says much about public perceptions of crime and how they are changing Los Angeles politics.


A decade or so ago, such talk would have been unthinkable for a politician like Yaroslavsky.

In those days, liberals discussed crime in terms of digging out "root causes," which meant ending unemployment, poverty and hunger. But recent elections showed that liberal political leaders and academics might be out of touch with regular people.

In 1992, two Democratic Senate primary candidates, Gray Davis and Mel Levine, were criticized by many liberals for running tough law-and-order television ads just after the riots.

The criticism was not surprising. Such appeals were viewed as racist by liberals. That was because conservatives had waved the law-and-order flag in appealing to a white backlash against the civil rights movement and the Great Society programs of the '60s.

Davis and Levine were beaten in the primary. But, interestingly, they carried largely African-American, liberal neighborhoods in South-Central and Southwest Los Angeles.

After the election, black attorney and political newsletter publisher Cynthia McClain-Hill said, "African-Americans, like everybody else in the city, are horrified at the incidents of violence and lawlessness. Political candidates who don't recognize that are just as likely to lose as those who ignore the social and economic problems of the community."

In this year's mayoral election, Republican Richard Riordan easily carried two Westside City Council districts with large numbers of liberal Jewish voters--Yaroslavsky's 5th and Marvin Braude's 11th.

"These are two of the most progressive and liberal Anglo districts in the city of Los Angeles," Yaroslavsky said. " And there is only one reason he got the vote, in my personal opinion. And that is that people are fed up with the infringement on their personal security. And so am I."

Another reason for Yaroslavsky suggesting federal troops was the city's precarious financial position.

Riordan has promised to increase the number of police officers on the street by 3,000. But the city faces budget deficits this year and next.

So it will be difficult for Riordan to keep his pledge. "There is no way they can put 3,000 additional police officers on the street," Yaroslavsky said. "We won't get 3,000 more police, but we may get 300, which is more than we would have gotten (without Riordan) pressing the issue and forcing the issue."


Whether it is 300, 3,000 or--as is most likely--somewhere in between will be the big question when Riordan delivers his budget to the council this week, and gives the city an idea of how he will deliver his campaign promise.

Bradley's budgets were balancing acts. Demands for more cops were weighed against housing, parks, and libraries and social programs for the needy, such as the homeless and poor youths needing summer jobs. In Bradley's day, the socially oriented programs were great favorites among liberals who dominated city government.

Riordan's budget will tilt more toward law enforcement. The new reality of L.A. politics will strengthen his hand as he pushes forward with this new municipal agenda. A decade ago he couldn't have carried it off. Yaroslavsky undoubtedly would have been leading the charge against abandoning social programs for more police.

And neither Yaroslavsky nor any other liberal politician would have suggested putting federal troops on the streets of L.A.

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