Clinton is receptive as nation's mayors outline major attack on drugs, firearms

December 10, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Weighing in on the nation's hottest political issue, a group of mayors and police chiefs brought their plan for reducing violent crime to the White House yesterday, where they met a sympathetic President Clinton.

"The American people are tired of hurting, and tired of feeling insecure, and tired of the violence [that creates] such a huge gap between . . . how we want to live and how were are forced to live," Mr. Clinton told the mayors and police chiefs. "We have to move."

Attorney General Janet Reno said the Justice Department was considering a host of new gun-control measures, including limiting the number of firearms an American can own, further restricting the sale of assault weapons, and requiring gun licenses in which people need to show a familiarity with gun safety procedures.

"It ought to be at least as hard to get a gun as a driver's license," Ms. Reno said.

A new Times-Mirror poll released today shows that Americans approve of Mr. Clinton's efforts to restrict the sale of handguns by a 2-to-1 margin. In addition, 45 percent said they would favor outlawing the sale of handguns altogether.

Seizing on the country's increasing fears of violent crime, the mayors and police chiefs presented the president with a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors called "A National Action Plan to Combat Violent Crime," which contains sets of recommendations in six broad policy areas.

They include:

* More federal money to hire additional police officers.

Mr. Clinton's proposal for federal money to hire 100,000 new police officers and to stress community policing techniques was widely hailed by the chiefs.

"You can look at all the long-range plans you want, but we have a crisis now!" said David Wade, police chief of Gary, Ind. The city had 400 officers when Chief Wade joined the force in 1970 as a patrolman. Today, he said, it has 245 -- "and I could use 100 more."

* Comprehensive gun control. The mayors' report calls for banning semiautomatic assault weapons, a hefty fee on registration of new guns, a federal prohibition on possession of firearms by minors, a huge tax on ammunition, product liability for gun dealers and expanding the Brady Bill's five-day waiting period on handguns to cover all firearms.

"People are not dying from rock-throwing or knives," Denver Mayor Wellington Webb told the president. "They're dying because of guns. We're calling for expansion of the Brady Bill."

* Expanding drug control efforts. The report advocates beefing up the White House staff and authority of drug czar Lee Brown, "mandatory minimum sentences" for drug traffickers convicted more than once and setting up additional "drug courts" that include treatment as a component of sentencing. It also calls on the federal government to undertake a national anti-drug education campaign.

"Equal importance must be attached to supply-reduction and demand-reduction efforts," the report states.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who attended the session, pronounced this single sentence the most important point in the report.

"That's the key thing," Mr. Schmoke said just before the president walked into the Indian Treaty Room for the meeting. "I hope the White House agrees."

To Mr. Schmoke's subsequent delight, Mr. Clinton indicated that he did agree. He even quoted that passage during his own remarks.

* Restructuring the criminal justice system. Although not primarily a federal issue, the mayors and police chiefs expressed their frustration with the courts and with a penal system that they see as completely unaccountable -- especially regarding its treatment of juveniles.

Citing the problems posed by overcrowded prisons and "lax" judges, Ruben Ortega, the Salt Lake City police chief, told the president: "The public has no confidence in a system that repeatedly puts dangerous felons back on the street . . . leaving citizens [believing] they have no choice but to arm themselves."

* A long-term strategy to rebuild neighborhoods racked by crime. The suggestions in the report, made by mayors annually, include bolstering urban schools, helping create job opportunities and launching community-based conflict resolution programs.

"Jobs help prevent crime and violence," said Mayor Webb, who called for a public-private partnership with full employment as its goal. Mayor Webb also called on the Clinton administration to lend its muscle to curbing the amount of violence on television and in musical lyrics.

* Enhanced cooperation between federal and local crime-fighting agencies.

Nearly every police official emphasized this issue. "It's money, but it's not only money," said Melvin C. McQuay, the acting Baltimore police commissioner "You need money for enforcement and money for drug treatment, but you also need the support of all the federal agencies, like the FBI and the DEA. You need their intelligence, their files, their technology and their expertise."

Many of these ideas the mayors presented to the White House have been around for years and others are in the pipeline as Congress prepares to pass anti-crime legislation.

A broad crime bill passed by the Senate authorizes 100,000 extra policemen; a narrower bill passed by the House approves only 50,000. Both chambers voted to prohibit the sale or transfer of handguns to juveniles, but a conference will be needed next year to reconcile the differences between the two bills.

"Most of [the ideas] are not new," said Mayor Schmoke, "but it takes a while to build momentum. You got to keep pushing."

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