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Crime Bill Receives Mixed Reviews From O.C. Officials

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Passage of the Clinton Administration’s crime bill this week received mixed reviews Friday, with two of Orange County’s top law enforcement officials predicting the hard-fought measure will provide little benefit to the county and others hoping it will add at least 240 new officers to the county.

“The bill is just an election-year window dressing,” said Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi. “It’s nothing more than a Trojan horse rather than a gift to the public wanting solutions to crime.”

Sheriff Brad Gates said the estimated $300 million county taxpayers are expected to pay toward the $30-billion legislation in the next six years could have been more wisely spent.

“We’re going to be a donor county,” he said. “That means because we’re a financially rich county, we’re going to give more to make the crime bill work than we’ll get back. And the difference will be spent in Georgia or Alabama.”

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Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) has warned repeatedly that Orange County will not receive “anywhere near” $300 million in benefits from the crime bill, said a spokesman for his office.

Others in the county, however, were optimistic that the crime bill will help boost crime-fighting efforts here by making federal matching funds available for hiring more police officers, banning 19 assault-type rifles and creating crime prevention programs.

Said Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove), the county’s sole Democratic legislator and a former federal prosecutor: “For those who think this is merely an election ploy, that’s unfortunate. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect bill.’ But this one is going to provide billions of dollars of resources to the state.”

The legislation, which President Clinton need now only sign, also endeavors to add an estimated 100,000 new police officers to cities across the country--240 of them in Orange County, according to estimates by county officials.

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But making cities apply for federal matching funds through state and federal agencies could prove to be the bill’s Achilles’ heel, said Santa Ana Police Chief Paul M. Walters, who is also president of the Orange County Police Chiefs Assn.

“I’d rather the money just be directly given to the cities in grants rather than Washington telling local cities what to do,” he said. “Different cities have different problems. I don’t like to see money get lost in bureaucracy, and when you get money from Washington that’s what happens.”

Other officials are worried that Orange County might be short-changed when the time comes to distribute federal funds--roughly $13.5 billion of which will be spent on state, local and federal law enforcement nationwide.

“I’m pleased that something finally trickled through,” said Westminster Police Chief James Cook. “I just hope that Orange County gets its fair share. A lot of people in Washington think, ‘Oh, thats just suburban Orange County, green lawns and two cars parked in the driveway.’ But this is a sophisticated county with crime problems of its own.”

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And that’s just the type of reputation the county and its estimated 2.6 million residents will have to overcome--even if it does rank as one of the lowest in crime among the 10 most populated counties in the state, Capizzi said.

But the statistics can be misleading.

Indeed, Orange County, the third-biggest county in the state by population, has its share of violent crime. Aggravated robberies, rapes, homicides, carjackings and home invasions are up compared to years past, Capizzi said.

Fatal drive-by shootings are also on the rise. In 1992, there were 34, in 1993, 74, and so far in 1994 there have been 42, Sheriff Gates said.

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The crime bill, in its attempt to put a dent in crime, would also authorize the death penalty for more than 50 federal crimes, including killings during carjackings and drive-by shootings.

Still, Irvine Police Officer Jim Blaylock said he has a difficult time envisioning federal funds from the crime bill trickling down to Irvine.

“I think the main thrust of the bill is for urban areas and the inner-city problems, not what we usually see here,” he said.

“It’s all proportionate to the problem, and our standing as being the safest city in the nation (with a population under 100,000) in terms of violent crime . . . is unique,” he said.

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For his part, Costa Mesa Police Capt. Rick Johnson said he likes the idea of the bill’s crime prevention programs, such as midnight basketball, or any other recreational activity that will keep at-risk youths off the streets.

“If people are doing activities that keep them busy enough that they’re not out committing crime, it’s a good deal,” he said.

As for Capizzi, the district attorney said he hopes the legislation can be paid for in full. He said he still has a hard time fathoming how Congress plans to produce the $30 billion.

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“Until they pass an appropriations bill and have the money to pay for it, the money will come from a trust fund,” he said. “And that trust fund will be made up through salary savings from not filling federal positions as they become vacant. But we’re talking about $30 billion.”

* RIORDAN THANKS CLINTON: Big-city mayors say money will make streets safer. A25


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