DENVER — Denver. -- A poll of Los Angeles residents, taken before Police Chief Daryl Gates was suspended last week, indicates that 58 percent did not favor dismissing him. Another 15 percent said he had to go, but Mr. Gates' supporters argue they are the same people who wanted the chief out long before the Rodney King assault.
The poll is likely to foster accusations that Los Angeles is an unsalvageable haven of police brutality against minorities -- made up of a racist white majority that opposes change. I wonder if it's that simple.
Even the black cops in Los Angeles disagree. A spokesmen for the city's largest organization of black police officers says that racism does not exist within the 8,300-member police department. While I doubt that, I also don't agree with charges from an embittered splinter group of black Los Angeles cops who charge that racism runs rampant in the department.
The anti-cop contingent will probably be shocked by the Los Angeles poll, but I'm not surprised that the majority of residents voted to support the fight against street crime. Are you?
I personally consider the physical rampage against Rodney King something that cannot be condoned. But obviously to the
majority of men and women who are afraid of random violence, the beating of Mr. King was considered a minor slip in the uphill battle against crime. Citizens everywhere have a limit to their tolerance of crime.
Crime is up, and people know it. Mr. and Mrs. Average are afraid for their lives. They are afraid to use the streets and the facilities of their cities and neighborhoods. They are apprehensive of what might happen if they mistakenly take the wrong exit from a high-speed expressway. They are petrified when they ride in public elevators, jog in a city park, walk their dogs in broad daylight or stand at a busy bus stop.
Because people are average doesn't mean they are fools. They nTC realize that there is a sea of polluted people who live among us, and it is the cops who do the dirty work of holding the line.
It's an occupation that is burning cops out at an amazing rate. How can we solve the problem? Perhaps it's time we considered limiting a street cop's tour of duty to a maximum seven-year hitch. After that, it would be time to relinquish the job to a fresh batch of idealists. It might be a way for a cop to come back from the front line. A way to become civilized and to trust people
Think of it. Retirement with full benefits after seven or ten years on the job. Why not? It really isn't such a radical idea: Aren't we already doing it for the air-traffic controllers who suffer from stress on the job?
However we solve the problem, it had better be soon, because there are ghouls loose on our streets, and they are eating up the cops we are sacrificing to hold the line. Between 1983 and 1987 the number of people under correctional supervision -- on parole or on probation -- in America increased by almost 40 percent from 2.47 to 3.46 million. In 1982, 82 percent of all state and federal prisoners had committed a crime after serving a previous prison term or after being on probation (recidivists). In other words, the cops are locking up the same people all the time because the penal system has broken down.
While none of us wants to see what happened to Rodney King happen again, I think it's safe to speculate that if something isn't done to curb crime and win back civilian security very soon, the King beating will be just the tip of the iceberg.
Ken Hamblin is a Denver columnist and radio personality.