Orange County Commentary : Editorials : A Not-So-Benevolent Offer

The recent subway shootings in New York have drawn increased public attention to so-called vigilante actions by people fed up with urban crime and living in fear of hoodlums who terrorize their daily lives. The frustration is understandable, but society cannot condone people's arming themselves and taking the law into their own hands. Even less acceptable is the public thinking that police in any way condone such action.

That's why the Orange County Human Relations Commission was quite right in criticizing the board of the (Santa Ana) Police Benevolent Assn. for recently offering to donate $300 to a Santa Ana man who has been accused of firing warning shots at teen-age gang members who, according to neighbors, had been terrorizing the neighborhood.

The man, facing misdemeanor criminal charges of assault with a deadly weapon, brandishing a weapon and discharging a firearm within the city, has refused the money. But it's an offer the police group never should have made.

The police association contends that the money wasn't offered to help pay legal fees. But it was offered after the incident, obviously in response to the predicament the resident found himself in after charges were filed. The shooting incident followed a dispute over a loud radio. According to police, the man says he fired three shots into the ground and the youths claim he pointed the gun at them before firing into the air.

Whatever the circumstances, or sentiments, the police association should have realized that offering money could be misconstrued as supporting vigilante responses.

The police association has gone on record declaring that it is "not condoning acts of vigilantism." That is good. It can't say that often enough. But it must also understand the point made by the Human Relations Commission when it expressed its concern that the action taken by the police association gives the "appearance" that police are lending their support to vigilante action. In such instances appearance is as important as actual intent.

Police and the community should be partners and work together closely to control hooliganism and keep neighborhoods safe. In the Santa Ana neighborhoods where gangs terrorize residents, the answer must be more police protection and community cooperation--not residents taking the law into their own hands and police groups making cash contributions to help them when they get caught doing it.

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