I agree with your editorial, "Troops to Cops: Imaginative Proposal" (Sept. 19), and I urge all Americans to give the idea a fair hearing.
Daily news reports describe the progressive decline and fall of Los Angeles as every part of the city falls prey to vandalism and mindless violence at all hours. Our city fathers and mayor pore over plans to add a few hundred more traditional police officers when several thousand are needed to have the same protection as Chicago or New York on a per-capita basis. I am among those who believe drastic action must be taken rapidly to avoid the irreversible decline of a great urban center.
This summer I had occasion to work in China again as well as Europe. Once more I was impressed by the peace and security one enjoyed in such diverse nations. Everywhere people commented on the shocking violence in Los Angeles and why they were reluctant to visit us or do business here for fear of their lives. Indeed, in Spain a cosmopolitan businessman, who like virtually all Spaniards is critical of the occasional Basque terrorism, observed that more people are killed in Los Angeles alone in one year than terrorists have killed in Spain in 30 years. As matters stand now, it is not clear that we can save what reputation Los Angeles has as a nice place to live or restore the idea that Southern California is the best place to live in the world. The amount of personal physical safety we can provide will decide the issue.
A substantial part of the solution lies in providing police protection throughout the city at all hours. Long-term preventive measures like jobs and education are vital but they do not negate the need for personal protection now. Since local funds are insufficient and too much time would be taken to train regular police in time should enough funds be available, other solutions must be shaped to address crime prevention right away.
We should consider the use of American military personnel that would volunteer to serve as a new Civil Patrol Corps. Many nations make use of their military for various types of civic work and assistance to the public, ranging from reforestation, public works construction and patrols for public safety. Why don't we adapt this practice to meet our desperate needs?
President Clinton is sympathetic to creative thinking and could help us jointly shape a pilot program. Let us say, 4,000 residents of Los Angeles currently on active duty volunteered as aides to LAPD for part of their military hitch. By patrolling needed areas on foot or bicycles with a portable phone and side arm, the entire city could be covered with helpful Angelenos in service of their hometown at almost no additional cost to the city.
We have everything to gain and nothing to lose from looking into such a possibility.