THE BALTIMORE chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of You People -- excuse me, Colored People (I haven't got all the Ross Perot virus out of my system yet) met last night to discuss its executive director's call for the use of the National Guard and the State Police to fight crime in the inner city.
I didn't go. I think it's too late for half measures. What we really need to do is send in the Marines.
I've been advocating this for some time in editorial board meetings, to no avail. Some of my colleagues even mock me! But what is their counter proposal for dealing with urban problems? To send in Walter Sondheim or Jim Rouse!
We've been doing that for 30 or 40 years. And look. As David Simon reported in The Sun yesterday, the crime rate for the city is out of control and still soaring. Just in the period from 1987-1992, the number of felonies in the city increased about 30 percent (while population was going down). That's the rate of increase in serious crimes in the city in the period 1972-1987, HTC and people during that period were alarmed.
Simon says the police department is significantly smaller than it was two decades ago. It sure is. In 1972 the number of full-time police officers here (not counting vacancies, not counting civilian employees) was slightly over 3,500. Now it's just over 2,800.
So police down by 20 percent, crime up by 70 percent. Only a coincidence? Don't kid yourself.
Even if the city could afford to hire 700 more cops, that wouldn't do the job right away. The cop-criminal ratio has gotten so out of balance that stronger medicine is needed. Think of it this way. There are over 200 reported felonies a day in Baltimore. There's a murder a day. That's not a crime wave. That's a riot. That's war.
That's why you need the Marines, the military police, the shore patrol and as many other armed, full-time people trained to restore order in such uncivilized places as a battlefield or a riot zone.
The NAACP's George Buntin Jr.'s suggestion to use state troopers and the weekend warriors of the National Guard might help, but the former are principally trained in traffic control and the latter are not available for the long haul.
Right, the long haul. Crime went down in Los Angeles in the 10 days the Marines and Army were there, then went back up after they left.
Even if you don't accept the crime rate in Baltimore as a legally defined riot, there is still legal justification for using federal troops here. Public housing is federal territory, and much of the currency of the poor crime victims is federal assistance. There is at least as much legal justification for using U.S. troops in Baltimore as there is for using them in Bosnia or Iraq.
(By the way, I'm a fan of Sondheim and Rouse. They've been brilliant, energetic and selfless in helping the city. We were lucky to have them. But now, unless they're ready to strap on sidearms . . . .)