New Administration Must Back 'Weed and Seed' Effort : Crime-fighting strategy is helping to restore peace to central area of Santa Ana.

Paul M. Walters is chief of police in Santa Ana

Our nation has voted for change. However, one important program which must remain intact is the successful "Operation Weed and Seed" crime-fighting strategy now being implemented in Santa Ana.

Nationwide, 20 cities, including Santa Ana, have been chosen as demonstration sites and received federal funding to help finance local law enforcement activities.

America's neighborhoods are facing a crisis. Violent crime, drug use and gang activities are taking over many of our once peaceful communities. Residents in high-crime neighborhoods live in constant fear.

Preventing violent crime is one of the most perplexing problems facing our country. According to the Department of Justice, the direct cost to victims totaled $8.75 billion in 1989. Not as easy to measure in dollars is the cost in lost jobs, closed businesses, and other economic losses.

Santa Ana was once a peaceful community. Local residents enjoyed quiet neighborhoods. Schools were safe havens for learning. Recreational activities were enjoyed in crime-free parks. During the past two decades certain areas have fallen victim to a drastic transformation.

As the county matures and becomes increasingly urbanized it is experiencing widespread crime and disorder. Violent youth gangs and drug abuse encroach upon the schools, threatening the peace and stability of homes and families. Public intoxication, domestic violence and other incivilities boil over as deteriorated conditions infest many neighborhoods.

"Weed and Seed" involves a coordinated approach to attacking these problems. Federal, state and local law enforcement officials pool their resources to combat violent crime, drug use and gang activities in a high-crime neighborhood. Once this is accomplished, social programs have a fighting chance. Law enforcement remains on the scene, assisting in the rehabilitation effort and building a relationship of cooperation with community leaders.

The "Weed and Seed" program contains four basic elements. First, law enforcement identifies and arrests criminals who have invaded the neighborhood. The approach combines traditional policing with problem solving and crime prevention.

Second is strong community support. Residents get involved in the reclaiming of their neighborhood. Community policing and programs such as Neighborhood Watch have met with great success.

Third is community empowerment. Educational programs combined with recreational activities, drug treatment and prevention programs will plant the seeds of a true community.

Fourth is economic empowerment. By providing funds for programs in these high crime neighborhoods, federal, state and local agencies will aid in the revitalization of the community. The private sector must also become involved as an active partner for this to succeed.

The initial success of the program has been phenomenal. The target area, located in Santa Ana's central district, was selected because it is the most crime-troubled part of the city. Within the last six months the target area has seen a dramatic reduction in crime. Drug arrests have increased 26%. Robbery has been reduced by 45%, assault is down 38%, auto theft decreased 24%, auto burglary is down by 60% and commercial burglary has been reduced by 35%. In the entire central district, reported crime has dropped by an average of 25% with some categories being reduced as much as 46%.

This success was made possible through the determined efforts of the "weed team," the central district police officers and the community. The "weed team" is composed of Santa Ana police officers, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, a county deputy district attorney and probation officer, Santa Ana Community Preservation officers and specialists from the Victim-Witness Assistance Program.

Recently, U.S. Atty. Gen. William Barr made his first official visit to Orange County. He commended Santa Ana for achieving the most dramatic results in the least amount of time of all test cities nationwide. And he reaffirmed the Department of Justice's commitment to the program as the most effective way to revitalize our nation's urban cities.

During the Bush Administration, America's crime problem has been approached in an aggressive and a well-researched manner. The "Weed and Seed" program was, and still is, seen as a key to urban renewal.

In this arena, politics must be set aside. The new Administration must recognize the importance of "Weed and Seed." The nation's urban cities need President-elect Clinton's full and continuing support of this program.

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