One guy they didn't ask about stopping crime

February 02, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

They're all over TV and the papers talking about crime: the president of the United States, his aides, members of Congress, lawyers, professors. They are promising this and that and vowing to do such and such.

But I've noticed the absence of one group that might be expected to have some opinion on crime and what, if anything, can be done to reduce it.

Cops.

Oh, once in a while you might get a high-ranking police official, a chief of some big city department. But police brass sound like the politicians, since they deal with budgets, manpower charts and other administrative matters.

By cops, I mean the men and women who go out on the street every day and try to solve crimes and arrest criminals.

In all the blather coming out of Washington about crime, and what the big-spenders will do about it, the invisible man is the street cop.

So the morning after President Clinton blew hot air at the nation, I called a friend who has been a cop for many years. He's worked on homicides, robberies, rapes, just about every form of foul behavior.

Because he aspires to higher rank, and clout still means something in the Chicago Police Department, it wouldn't help his career to be known as my friend. So his name can't be used.

But he's real. And when I asked him what his reaction was to the current anti-crime frenzy in the White House and Congress, he said: "It's a lot of bull."

He elaborated. "There's nothing we haven't heard before. Three strikes and you're out. We already send up three-time losers in Illinois. Hasn't done anything to the crime rate. Build more prisons. We can't build enough prisons to hold all the bad guys. Tougher gun laws. Look, the only people the gun laws affect are honest people. Frankly, I wish every decent family in America had a gun and knew how to use it.

"Besides, federal crime laws don't mean a damn thing to me because about 95 percent of the crimes in this country are local, not federal. The feds aren't dealing with shootings in saloons or guys going nuts and killing their wives and kids or the neighbors. Most of their busts are white-collar. So federal laws don't mean squat when it comes to everyday crime.

"Now, I'm in a minority, but a lot of cops agree with me on this. And that's the drug laws. We're wasting our time trying to control that crap. We're wasting billions of dollars and throwing people in jail who are just self-destructive goofs.

"We'd be better off doing what we do with liquor and cigarettes. Tax them and license the sale. Sure, people abuse booze and they smoke. But smoking is way down because most people know it's bad for them. The same thing with booze. More white wine and light beer and fewer boilermakers.

"It's the same thing with drugs. Right now, most people don't use drugs. If you legalize it, most people still won't use drugs.

"But you take away the illegal profit motive, there go the drug peddlers, the gangs and the other serious crime. And most of the police and political corruption.

"Then you wouldn't have thousands of cops wasting their time trying to bust some small-time dealer. You wouldn't have them clogging up the courts and filling up cells that somebody dangerous should be in.

"But you don't hear the politicians say that because they're afraid of the people who say: 'I don't want my kids buying drugs.' Hey, lady, if your kid wants to buy drugs right now, he can do it. And maybe he already is.

"Look back 20 years. Anybody who said we ought to legalize gambling in Illinois was treated like a nut. The Mafia will take it over. Where there's a casino there will be murder and prostitution, and families are going to fall apart because the old man is blowing his paycheck at the blackjack table.

"Now we got gambling boats all over Illinois. We're going to have VTC them in Chicago and the suburbs. And it's no big deal. The sky isn't falling.

"Same thing with drugs. What, somebody is going to smoke some marijuana at home, listen to music, then go out and shoot everybody he sees? No, he's going to fall asleep and get up the next morning with less of a hangover than if he drank three boilermakers.

"Now, if you legalize the stuff, and tax it, you save billions of dollars that we're wasting now, and you bring in a lot of extra money from the taxes.

"Then you take that money and use some of it for rehabbing the junkies.

"But you also find ways to invest it in places like the West Side, in public works projects or to help start private businesses that will create jobs. Because that's where it all started, the craziness and the higher crime rate. When the low-skill jobs disappeared, the husbands were out of work and they disappeared. And that's why we have all these one-parent or no-parent families that turn out the street criminals.

"Hey, but what do I know? I only go out there and arrest them, fill out the paperwork and go to court.

"It's not like I'm some expert in Washington and get on C-Span."

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