Do We Ask Too Much of the Law, or Is Block Blowing a Smoke Screen? : Deputies: Where were the protesters when the government cut programs that would prevent violent crime?

In the absence of government programs to deal with social and economic issues, law enforcement is left to deal with the result: a higher incidence of violent crime against those of us who live in Los Angeles County and the resulting community protest.

We have witnessed the virtual dismantling of mental-health programs in the county, making the Sheriff's Department the administrator of its largest mental-health facility--the County Jail.

We have witnessed the failure of government officials to provide effective and comprehensive gang prevention and educational programs for at-risk youth, and consequently the Sheriff's Department has become the agency of last resort to deal with the county's hard-core gang population--now numbering more than 50,000, twice the population of the average American town.

Deputies are also confronted daily with community outrage and demands for an independent review of the department's policies and procedures.

Where were the community outrage and demands for review when budget cutbacks took away programs to identify and treat the mentally ill?

The public sees them every day, living on the streets. And when the homeless mentally ill become a problem, law-enforcement officers are called to deal with people who should have been served by mental-health professionals.

Where is the community outrage protesting record high school dropout rates among minority youths? Any teacher can identify the youths who will later be at risk of committing gang crimes, but there are not enough programs to keep students in school, off drugs and away from street gangs.

According to a recent report by the state attorney general, violent crime in California increased 36% between 1985 and 1990. As shocking as that statistic might be, in the same period, juvenile arrests for violent crime increased by 50%. Where is the community outrage for that potentially at-risk student before he becomes a problem for law enforcement?

Is there anyone demanding an administrative review of the government agencies properly charged with performing these services? Demands for oversight are instead focused on the Sheriff's Department, the one agency left after the budget cutbacks to deal with the long-term effects of government deficits.

Where is the community outrage when people are afraid to walk their neighborhood streets after dark? Where are the demands for reviews when people are afraid to use an automated teller in broad daylight?

I refuse to believe that Los Angeles County residents are complacent about crime. But neither are they demanding that government produce effective and comprehensive programs to prevent crime. Maybe the situation confronting us requires a little more leadership in Los Angeles.

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