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Doubt Cast on Crime Rate’s Tie to Drug War : Violence: Martinez says statistics show that success against narcotics will not necessarily make the nation’s streets safer. He cites other factors.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a major break from earlier assumptions, Bob Martinez, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Thursday that success in battling illicit drugs will not necessarily lead to winning the war on crime.

“There is now some solid evidence that the percentage of violent crimes that are drug related is declining, yet violent crime overall is not,” Martinez said in comments on the second anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of war on drugs.

“There are other social pathologies at work which will continue to foster violence, especially in our inner cities,” Martinez said in a speech at the National Press Club here.

He cited as examples broken families, fathers not disciplining teen-age sons, the need for welfare programs that “foster the right virtues” and the lack of swifter and surer punishment of criminal acts as factors contributing to inner-city violence.

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“Until we start to do these things, then I fear that in some areas of our country, drug use will be replaced by another corrosive pathology,” Martinez said.

The acknowledgement that curbing drug crimes may not reduce the overall crime rate represented a significant departure from the tone of the national drug control strategy announced two years ago, which listed “making neighborhoods safe” as the No. 1 challenge of the criminal justice system.

“When this crusade began, many of us assumed that crime would drop as drug use declined,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, there are now some preliminary indications that success in the war on drugs does not necessarily translate into success in the war on crime.”

Aides to Martinez cited as the basis for his comments last month’s uniform crime reports by the FBI, which found that arrests for drug abuse violations nationwide dropped 14% in 1990 from the 1989 level, while the overall crime rate rose 2%.

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Despite the difference in direction for the drug crime and overall crime rates, Martinez said, evidence is “clear and convincing” that criminals are more likely to be drug users and more likely to commit a crime when they are under the influence of drugs.

In his comments, Martinez appeared to be taking a cue from his predecessor, the tough-talking William J. Bennett. He branded some critics of the Administration’s narcotics war as “political ambulance-chasers” who “scoff at good news . . . because misery keeps the lights turned on at their press conferences.”

He said that these “cynical political opportunists” fail to acknowledge “what a remarkable domestic political achievement” the drug-fighters have accomplished. Martinez cited a drop of 45% since 1988 in the number of Americans using cocaine and even greater declines in use among young people as evidence of that success.

But Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, took issue with Martinez’s measurements of success, noting that “there are more weekly users of cocaine in this country today than there were three years ago.”

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In a report by the Democratic staffs of his committee and the International Narcotics Control Caucus, Biden saluted the Administration for many of its efforts but concluded that “too little has been done to arrest the nation’s existing drug epidemic--and signs of some dangerous new epidemics are appearing on the horizon.”

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), in a harsher assessment of Administration accomplishments, said that the drug fight has been “limited at best. Administration policy-makers are too content with slowed drug use among the middle class, while the drug crisis remains severe among other elements of society.” Rangel is chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control.

Martinez said that he found “rich irony” in comments by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) and his House counterpart, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), that Bush is ignoring domestic needs.

“On the problem that they described two years ago as the greatest threat to America, they are now silent--and their silence was forced by the commitment and achievement of the President,” Martinez said.

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