Can defend or minimize what those LAPD cops did...

NO ONE

March 27, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

NO ONE can defend or minimize what those LAPD cops did, but now that we're all thinking about crime, let's focus on the real crime problem this country needs desperately to deal with.

No one seems to know how much police violence there is. Department of Justice officials told the House Judiciary Committee last week that they get from 7,000 to 9,000 complaints each year. Everybody knows there's more than that.

An American Civil Liberties Union official says ACLU offices around the country get two to three complaints against police a day. Not every case of a cop physically abusing a suspect gets to the Justice Department or the ACLU. On the other hand, not every complaint is truly about brutality. Often complaints are just about roughness.

But let's say every ACLU office gets three legitimate brutality complaints a day, seven days a week (we liberals never rest). There are 51 ACLU offices. That's 55,692 incidents a year. For safe measure, add the 9,000 complaints the Department of Justice gets -- say 65,000. It probably isn't that many, but even if it is, violence-wise, that's nothing.

There are over 20,000 cases of the ultimate brutality -- murder -- every year in the United States. That's just counting those reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and listed in the annual Uniform Crime Report. The FBI cautions that not all crimes are reported to it. But those that were in 1989 totaled: 21,500 murders, 94,504 rapes, 951,710 aggravated assaults. That's over one million crimes of violence -- not counting 578,326 robberies in which there was "force or threat of force."

So violence committed by criminals on people not suspected of wrongdoing is at least 16 to 24 times as prevalent as violence committed on suspected criminals by police officers. And that understates it. Those big numbers, to repeat, are just offenses known to the police. They don't tell nearly the whole story.

In addition to the UCR, the Justice Department with help from Census interviewers and statisticians estimates the numbers of crimes actually committed each year. For 1989 it estimated 135,400 rapes, 1,664,710 aggravated assaults, 1,091,810 robberies.

(No murder stats in the victimization survey; dead men tell no tales).

Say about three million victims of violence, adding in known and assumed homicides. Throw in "simple assault" and your total is nearly six million.

Three or six million crimes of violence a year is a lot of crime. We ought to be at least as concerned about this collective army of barbarians as we were about the Elite Republican Guard of Iraq -- and as willing to spend a lot of money to deal with its threat. A lot.

No, this time I don't mean spending money on ending thpoverty that causes crime. I mean spending money to end the crime that causes poverty.

Saturday: How crime causes poverty and what to do about it.

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