Crime fighters shouldn't be traffic copsPolice have...

the Forum

March 01, 1993

Crime fighters shouldn't be traffic cops

Police have frequently voiced their concern about increased gun sales. They may be worried for the wrong reason.

Most gun buyers are trying to protect themselves. The public is rapidly losing faith in the police. This criticism does not go to any individual officer or even the commissioner but to police management.

People see an ineffective and inefficient organization. This is especially true in Guilford, Charles Village, Bolton Hill and the center city. Neighbors and merchants have testified to their lack of confidence by buying private security guards.

Guns and private police dramatically illustrate fear and despair. People know the guns are as likely to injure as to protect family members.

History too often has demonstrated the dangers of private police. Neighborhoods and merchants who buy security guards are jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Yet, given the lack of confidence in the police, ugly choices appear to be the only choices to fight crime in Baltimore.

What is wrong with police management? Police have too many responsibilities. People may be able to do two things well, but not bureaucracies. Police spend less than 30 percent of their time fighting crime; they spend most of their time fighting traffic.

Any morning, between five and 10 police wait up to three hours in city traffic courts to testify about tickets. Traffic citations hardly need men and women trained in martial arts, target shooting, surveillance, criminal law and so on. Do we need police to direct traffic; to park with radar on Eastern Avenue; to take information at the hundreds of weekly car and truck accidents throughout the city?

If police concentrate on crime, what happens to traffic safety? It will continue to get better.

Traffic fatalities have decreased due to safer roads, emergency medical care, better cars, seat belts and air bags.

Studies have shown no relationship between police efforts and traffic safety. These findings have been confirmed by data showing police strikes and "job slow downs" do not lead to more accidents.

This does not mean safety can live without enforcement. But police certainly are not needed for radar surveillance, drunk-driving road blocks, seat belt checks or directing traffic.

Police can double or triple their manpower for crime fighting -- for less money -- by getting out of the traffic business.

In light of a recent wave of murders, City Council members have asked the police commissioner to resign. City officials have responded by suggesting more taxes for more police.

Both are wrong. More police will not deter crime. Police commissioners are doing the best job possible. It is just the wrong job.

Michael Guarnieri

Baltimore

Smoker's pollution

The age of innocence concerning tobacco smoke ended Jan. 7. On that date, the Environmental Protection Agency declared environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) to be a Class A carcinogen, despite the tobacco industry's using every trick in the book to prevent it.

This action gave official U.S. government recognition to a fact that has been common knowledge in the medical and scientific community for at least a decade. It was a very important step because it placed ETS in the same category as asbestos, radon, benzene and ion radiation.

It is illogical and unconscionable for any elected official, union official, employer or merchant to advocate exposing their constituents, clients, employees or patrons to a substance that is a bona fide Class A carcinogen as well as a cause of angina, asthma, etc. Such irresponsible action borders on criminal negligence.

For years the tobacco industry has successfully defended against lawsuits filed by smokers on the premise that the smoker had been warned of the harmful effects of tobacco by the labels on cigarette packs.

Lawyers can now use that same argument to say that employers and merchants have been adequately warned by the EPA report.

I urge all legislative bodies at the federal, state and local levels to pass the strongest legislation possible to protect nonsmokers from ETS. If employers and merchants are smart they will stop listening to tobacco industry propaganda and support such legislation because it will not only protect the victims but also protect them from lawsuits they are now certain to lose.

John H. O'Hara

Bowie

Suffering pets

My husband and I are caretakers of many stray cats (all of whom are neutered, spayed and vetted). We were very moved by Beth Smith's touching tribute to her cat (Other Voices, Feb. 11) until we realized that the animal's last days were a slow process of suffocation from poorly functioning lungs.

Letting an animal slowly die through lack of oxygen and struggling to breathe is just as inhumane as letting it endure pain.

We have lost two cats to congestive heart failure, where the lungs fill with fluid, and just a week ago we lost another cat to emphysema.

None were in pain but their struggle to get air was as bad. They were put down promptly.

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