Does D.C. need the Guard to bolster its army of cops?

ROGER SIMON

October 27, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, who has spent most of her time trying to convert the most dangerous city in America into the most dangerous state in America, has now come up with a new crime-fighting plan:

She wants Congress to give her the power to call out the National Guard.

"I think we've got to get real about doing whatever works to provide safety," Mayor Kelly said.

Funny thing, though, the two words that come to my mind when I think National Guard are not "public safety." They are "Kent State."

(To be fair, when the guardsmen at Kent State poured M-1 rifle fire for 14 seconds into a crowd of students on May 4, 1970, they killed only four, which has always indicated to me their hearts were not truly in it.)

Kelly has changed her mind several times on how she wants to use the guard, but she knows for sure she needs them to supplement her 4,200-member police force.

Overlooked in most stories about this, however, is the simple fact that Washington already has one of the highest police-to-citizen ratios in the nation: There is about one Washington cop for every 140 people.

Criminologists have known for years that increasing the number of police does not guarantee a decrease in crime. What does? One important factor is how the community views crime.

And in Washington, the community certainly knows how their mayors view crime: They are for it.

"We will engage in civil protest if we think the laws that govern us are unfair and un-American," Mayor Kelly said shortly before she was arrested and led away in handcuffs on Aug. 26.

Kelly had led hundreds of demonstrators in a protest for district statehood that blocked streets near the Capitol. Such demonstrations require scores of police officers to monitor the march, make arrests, re-route traffic, etc.

These police could be better used to fight crime, but Mayor Kelly doesn't care because she will disobey any law she believes is "unfair."

Her immediate predecessor, Marion Barry, thought drug laws were unfair, which is why he regularly pounded cocaine up his nose until he was sent to prison.

So maybe the National Guard is the answer in our nation's capital, if only to patrol the mayors.

And while President Clinton said he could not give Kelly the power to call out the guard, he will support legislation that would.

Which left me with a question: Who will decide if the guard will carry live ammunition?

So I called Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Robert F. Ensslin Jr., who is executive director of the National Guard Association of the United States.

"The governor of each state decides," he said, which means that when Kelly gets the authority to call out the guard, she would also get the authority to arm it.

Currently she says she has no immediate plans to do this. But one of her stated plans is to use the guard to man drug interdiction roadblocks.

Which, General Ensslin says, is exactly where the guard must be armed.

"If you don't arm a guardsman at a roadblock, you just make him a target," General Ensslin said. "In the Liberty City [Miami] riots of 1980, roadblocks were the only place where the guard fired weapons. And during the recent L.A. riots, the one person killed by the guard was killed at a roadblock when he tried to run down a guardsman."

General Ensslin did have a concern about using the guard in Washington: "So you're going to have guys in BDUs [Battle Dress Uniforms, i.e. camouflage gear] and their Kevlar helmets and flak vests and M-16s on the streets and I wonder what that does to a city that relies quite heavily on tourism."

Not to worry. Kelly has another idea: She wants to build gambling casinos in Washington, which will certainly attract all those tourists who think their children should be exposed to American history and craps at the same time.

The White House says legislation giving Kelly the power to call out the guard has a "good" chance in Congress, but I wonder if Congress appreciates the implications of this:

The National Guard possesses armor, artillery, jets and helicopter gunships.

And once Mayor Kelly has control of the guard, she could easily surround the Capitol with tanks and disband Congress.

On second thought, it might be worth a try.

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