This is in response to the article by Melanie E. Lomax (Editorial Pages, Feb. 19), "Taxation to Stop Police 'Brownouts.' "
I must take exception to the writer's tacit approval of the most ill-conceived tax proposal to ever confront the Los Angeles City Council--a proposal that offers little short-term relief to the crime-plagued residents of South-Central Los Angeles, and is certain to have the most disastrous long-term impact upon all residents of Los Angeles.
While I can admit that Lomax's article does state the facts about the crime problems in South-Central Los Angeles in clear and vivid terms, I am compelled to point out that the facts are not at issue. Instead, as was glossed over in Lomax's treatment of the subject, the real issue is whether or not a proposed initiative such as she described, which was originally (and surprisingly) proposed by Councilman Robert Farrell, is a good thing for the South-Central community. To this I must add a resounding NO!
Substantively, the issue becomes a twofold question: On the one hand we must consider whether the risks inherent in the precedent that would be set by the success of such an inheritance can be outweighed by the undeterminable effect that an addition of a number of police officers to the area would have on a problem that (as is apparent to anyone living in South-Central) is not necessarily the result of too few police officers being available. On the other hand we must consider whether community-limited taxation defeats the purpose of citywide government and administration.
In the first instance, I concede that drive-by shootings are on the increase and overt police presence may deter some of these incidents. Nonetheless, this emphasizes only a symptom of the problem and ignores the more salient fact that gangs and gang membership have been on the increase in South-Central since the early 1970s and this despite the number of police officers deployed in the area.
Teen-age gangs have not been shown to be affected by police concentration alone, and responsible analysts have long recognized the effect of a community's economy on teen-age delinquency. Without a doubt employed teen-agers do not join gangs and where there is high teen-age employment rates there are fewer incidents of gang proliferation; that runaway gang activities and crimes against people go hand in hand is equally clear. In short, it appears to me that simply deploying a few (hundred) more police officers in South-Central is but a "Band-Aid" solution to a much larger problem.
In the second instance, if voters in South-Central are allowed to tax themselves to meet the distinct priorities of their own community, where can we expect this type of "you-want-it-you-pay-for-it" governmental philosophy to end?
I, for one, am less concerned about rich communities "maintaining standing armies" than I am about the people who can least afford it being told that the established citywide resource allocations must remain the same, and that if (for example) you want better street maintenance, better fire protection or better schools in your communities: Tax yourselves! If this is acceptable, then why not go one better and advocate that any community dissatisfied with the current resource allocation made by the City Council secede from the municipality altogether!
In the final analysis, to say that Councilman Farrell's proposed initiative is "dangerous" is an understatement. Whatever his motivations, this proposal is misguided at best, and fundamentally contradictory of any conception of what constitutes a municipality. Furthermore, it shows little concern for the ultimate future of a community that deserves the compassionate understanding of its chosen leaders. South-Central Los Angeles deserves the prospect of someday becoming a viable and respectable part of the greater Los Angeles community and of someday escaping the exile of racial and socioeconomic isolation it has known for the past 20 to 30 years.
SHERMAN B. SHAW