Religious Groups March to War Against Crime

Times Staff Writer

Several hundred Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy from throughout Los Angeles County met Thursday to launch a "battle against crime" and pledged to mobilize their congregations to work with public officials to "regain control of our communities."

The broad spectrum of religious groups, represented by about 600 people at a packed meeting at Mount St. Mary's College in central Los Angeles, was brought together by the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) and the South-Central Organizing Committee (SCOC), as well as Mayor Tom Bradley and Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner.

"You have buried the dead, grieved with those who have lost their loves ones, given counsel to those whose lives have been shattered by the violence and crime that occurs in this city," Bradley said in urging his listeners to commit themselves to the long-term effort proposed by the two grass-roots community groups.

"I assure you that your city and law enforcement agencies and the justice system for the city will totally support this effort," he said. "And I'll do everything within my power to assist you in this tremendous fight."

The proposed strategies for crime-fighting range from forming broad-based community organizations, such as UNO and SCOC, throughout the county, to establishing "combat zone strategy and action teams," made up of law enforcement agencies, the courts and community residents, to target specific crime problems in particular areas and deal with them.

Other proposals, which event organizers admitted may take longer to implement, include lobbying for a higher tax on alcoholic beverages and a crackdown on white-collar tax cheats in order to provide additional funds for crime prevention, particularly for federal drug enforcement agencies.

The plan also calls for urging that some of the Olympic surplus funds, destined for a Southern California foundation to aid youth sports in the Los Angeles area, be targeted for expanding existing youth sports programs and developing new programs in high-crime areas, as a means of discouraging drug abuse and delinquent behavior.

Endorsed by Most Participants

The anti-crime proposals were endorsed by most participants, including state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, Cardinal Timothy Manning, Episcopal Bishop Robert Rusack, Rabbi Alfred Wolf and George Aliano, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, although unable to attend the meeting, also pledged their support, according to the event's organizers.

Religious and civic leaders shared the auditorium stage where a large map of Los Angeles County provided the backdrop. Dotted with hundreds of tiny red, green and yellow lights representing "rock houses" or drug centers, as well as murders and gang turf, the map was aglow from the San Fernando Valley to South-Central Los Angeles and from the San Gabriel Valley to Santa Monica.

"Judging from this map," said SCOC Chairwoman Edith Nealy, "you can see that our problem is your problem and your problem is our problem."

'We're Losing the Battle'

Referring to it as a "war map," UNO President Dan Saenz declared: "We're losing the battle." But, he added, "There is hope."

Saenz said that hundreds of meetings with law enforcement officials, judges, probation officers and elected officials, as well as community residents, over the last year resulted in the two organizations' proposals for fighting crime in the county.

"The criminals are organized," he said. "If we want to do something to combat crime, we must be solidly organized. . . . It's time to take the initiative to recapture our cities and make our streets safe to walk."

Reiner, who began meeting with UNO and SCOC representatives last fall on the crime issue, pledged to deploy part of his staff to participate in a program he has proposed for conducting broad-scale sweeps of probation violators "to get them off the streets and in jail, rather than wait until they commit another crime."

Other Agencies to Be Sought

He said he will initiate meetings with other law enforcement agencies this week to urge their cooperation in making the program a success.

Anti-Drug Campaign Described

The attorney general's office is attacking the state's drug problem in varied ways, Van de Kamp said, including through a concerted program to shut down clandestine drug laboratories and through proposed tougher drug laws.

State Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, who made an unexpected appearance at the gathering, noted that only 6% of crimes commited in California reach the courts. He urged citizens to cooperate with police in reporting crimes "so that the streets can be made free of crime."

From a religious viewpoint, Manning, who said that as resident of downtown Los Angeles he is familiar with crime and violence, called for a "restoration of respect for human life and human dignity."

Wolf, noting the unusual composition of the gathering, pointed to the "importance of bridging different religious institutions and of establishing links between our constituencies and secular authority."

"We're hoping for a miracle," he added. "But a minor miracle has already happened. Who's ever seen more ministers, priests and rabbis together--listening."

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