Troops to Cops: Imaginative Proposal

The story is the same, be it set in the inner city or a suburb. Kids can't walk to school without fear. Their parents dare not use a bank ATM at night or drive a nice automobile that might tempt carjackers. Where are the police?

Most Americans want more cops, but few municipalities can afford to expand their police departments because of budget deficits, state funding cuts and a national economy that refuses to rebound strongly. Meanwhile, crime takes no vacation.

Congress can put more officers on patrol, and reduce unemployment, by encouraging military police officers who become casualties of defense cuts to go into civilian law enforcement. This novel "troops-to-cops" proposal, by Rep. Steve Horn (R-Long Beach), is now a part of the House defense authorization bill. The details--including the major hurdle, the cost--have yet to be worked out. But, in theory, the measure could remedy a couple of problems.

Thousands of dedicated men and women expect to be forced out of the armed services because the Clinton Administration has proposed drastic cuts in the 1994 military budget. They will need jobs at a time when cutbacks prevail in both the public and private sectors.

The troops-to-cops proposal would encourage military police officers and others with military law enforcement experience to work for state and local police departments. The feds wouldn't pay for training in local police academies (that training is an important element that would still be required), but Washington would subsidize the salaries of the new officers for five years. Clearly, those subsidies would help hard-pressed cities like Los Angeles.

The federal government would pay 50% of the new officers' salaries in the first year, 40% the second year, 30% the third, 20% the fourth and 10% the fifth. That's a bargain for the scared folks back home.

The program would also help military personnel who have health care experience. They could qualify for local public service jobs such as emergency medical technicians', and the federal government would subsidize their salaries.

The troops-to-cops program isn't the only worthy police proposal in Washington. The Clinton Administration's National Service Act will encourage young Americans to sign up for four-year stints at their local police departments in exchange for federal scholarships. Current funding will allow the hiring of several thousand police officers during the next four years.

Neither of these measures will provide enough cops to make a colossal difference; and officers by themselves cannot solve the manifold problem of crime in America. But as emblems of Washington's concern and of national priorities, these proposals are useful and imaginative tools that absolutely deserve support.

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