Honchos dropped by to talk preparedness...


December 13, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

NATIONAL GUARD honchos dropped by to talk preparedness, missions and national and international security with the editorial writers.

Ignorant of such stuff and obsessed with urban crime, I asked if the Guard was ready to start policing Baltimore's mean streets.

"No," said Maj. Gen. James F. Fretterd, Maryland's adjutant general. "No," said Maj. Gen. Robert F. Ensslin Jr., executive director of the National Guard Association of the United States.

"Meaning you can't? Or meaning you can, but you don't think it's a good idea?"

"Can. Don't think it's a good idea," said General Ensslin. Both generals said having soldiers with rifles and helmets on city streets would hurt rather than help. It would scare away tourists and other users of urban amenities.

Tell that to the owners of the Charles Theater. It closed down last night, perhaps only temporarily but maybe for good. Why? According to David Levy, who operates the theater, "crime has had a big impact. The block [1700 N. Charles] started to go downhill when the Chesapeake [restaurant] closed, and now people just won't go anywhere where they don't feel safe."

I'll bet the Charles would have been doing a lot more business and the Chesapeake would still be serving crab cakes if there were a few guardsmen in combat gear strolling the area every night from, say 6 p.m. to midnight. If they can do it in Somalia and the Sinai Peninsula, why not in Baltimore?

* * *

There is a feeding frenzy going on in re crime. Members of Congress and members of the administration are trying to out-do each other in talking tough. Let's be rational. Let's be practical. If you make a federal case out of everything, you end up unable to provide enough federal resources to combat anything.

As the new director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, said last week, "unchecked federalization of crime" not only dilutes resources, it also "creates unrealistic expectations." Congress presently has before it and probably will pass legislation to federalize 50 varieties of murder plus some other state crimes, including Peeping Tom. It already made carjacking and some child support cases crimes against the nation.

Congress ought to focus on a very few things at a time. Look at the high-crime Census tracts. See what special and different things needs to be done there. Then assist mayors and governors to concentrate resources and effort there.

* * *

Some of the debate on the present crisis still emphasizes "the root causes of crime" -- poverty.

This ignores two things.

(1) The nation spent more money to end or mitigate poverty in the past 30 years than in the previous 150 years.

(2) Crime is a root cause of poverty. If the Charles stays closed, some people who used to make a living working there may become poor.

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