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Take It From the Voters: Get Tough, or Get Beaten : Crime: Too many in Congress are too willing to back down on stiff laws and punishment for dangerous criminals.

November 10, 1993|ROBERT L. VERNON | Robert L. Vernon , former assistant chief with the Los Angeles Police Department, is now an international consultant and author. His latest book is: "L.A. Justice--Lessons from the Firestorm" (Focus on the Family Publishing, 1993). and

Last week's elections sent a clear message to Congress: The voters are concerned about crime and want decisive, tough action to combat it. Congress undoubtedly heard the message, but it appears some of its members think they can continue to get away with fooling their constituents.

Both houses of Congress quickly focused their attention on anti-crime legislation. The Senate almost immediately passed a measure that calls for the construction of a $3-billion nationwide chain of regional prisons to house violent criminals and for spending $1 billion on correctional boot camps and other facilities for lesser offenders. Congress' action may also provide funding for the recruitment of tens of thousand of new police officers.

Congress is, no doubt, mindful of the obvious pattern in the election results. Voters in New York City rated concern about crime as one of their primary reasons for ousting Mayor David Dinkins. Voter exit interviews in New Jersey revealed crime as one of the reasons for Republican Christine Todd Whitman defeating incumbent Democrat Jim Florio. Polls show crime is a top priority with most people. But, unfortunately, debate in both houses of Congress indicates that many politicians will talk "big time" but give us more of the "same old, same old." Their attitude is elitist and shows disdain for the opinions of the people they represent.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) earlier announced that he was considering dropping "contentious aspects," such as stiffer penalties for use of guns in crimes and limits on Death Row appeals, from his bill to get it moving.

What is contentious about stiffer penalties for use of guns in crimes? Politicians may think that it is contentious, but my sense is that is exactly the type of action the voters want. They want tough laws to stop violence. Rather, it appears that Congress will set aside large chunks of money for additional social programs rather than direct action against dangerous criminals. The House overwhelmingly approved measures to require drug-abuse treatment at federal prisons, but feels that stiff penalties against criminals using guns is "contentious."

We do need to treat drug abusers but we must not put that effort above eliminating vicious predators from our midst.

Murder and other violent crimes are increasing at an alarming rate. Yet convicted murderers spend five to 15 years on Death Row going through multiple appeals. Ancient and recent history demonstrate that capital punishment is a deterrent only when it is imposed swiftly. However, many politicians seem to think that limiting Death Row appeals is also contentious.

They just don't get it!

I predict that the bill that finally becomes law will not actually be what the voters want. It will have some voter appeal--additional police and bigger jails.

What I don't like about additional police being funded is the source of the bucks--the big-government politicians in Washington. They take our local money, rip off a big hunk of it for administrative costs and give it back to us, with strings attached. The elitists will then be able to tell local officials how the officers are selected, trained and should perform. No thanks. We really do need community-based policing, not federally based policing.

But significant changes in our defunct criminal justice non-system will not be there. Those changes are too "contentious" for most of those on the Hill.

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