Fighting Crime Together

Violent crime strikes people from all walks of life, so it is not surprising that people from all walks of life are fighting back.

Just about everyone has ideas on what society can do to protect itself from criminals. This is nothing new. Three years ago, for example, California voters passed Proposition 115, a sweeping overhaul of criminal justice proceedings. The initiative was intended to speed up the judicial process, permit previously excluded evidence and extend the use of capital punishment and life sentences.

But even before Proposition 115, Californians have long supported the basic concept of lock 'em up and throw away the key, regardless of which political party was in power.

Since 1975 - the year Jerry Brown became governor - the population at California Youth Authority facilities has risen from 4,457 to 8,687. Even when population growth is factored in, the increase is still dramatic.

Similarly, during Brown's Democratic administration, the state prison population rate for every 100,000 citizens climbed from 92.1 (1975) to 138.3 (1982). During the Republican administration of George Deukmejian, it continued the upward climb, more than doubling from 154.1 (1983) to 320.9 (1990). And under Pete Wilson, it's still climbing.

Congress, meanwhile, responding to claims of overly lenient judges, has imposed sentencing guidelines, requiring federal judges to adopt mandatory minimum sentences.

In much the same vein, columnist and former presidential speech writer and candidate Pat Buchanan has called for the wholesale'' use of the death penalty.

Earlier this month in a letter to the Press-Telegram, Long Beach resident Robert R. Allison spoke out in favor of longer sentences for gun-wielding criminals and more prisons. "I, for one, am willing to pay the additional taxes required to keep criminals and their guns off the streets," he wrote.

Others have suggested making prison life more unattractive and thereby, perhaps, a greater deterrent to criminal activity.

Because most violent crimes are committed by youths, many suggestions for solutions are aimed at teen-agers and young adults.

Some recommendations are simple; others are more sophisticated. They include a strictly enforced nationwide curfew for minors; using abandoned military bases as boot camps for young offenders; instituting a 1930s-style WPA (Works Progress Administration) program to provide jobs; requiring prisoners to work to pay for their keep; and reinstituting the draft.

Jorge Altamirano has owned a foreign car repair shop on Seventh Street near Alamitos Avenue for 18 years. For the past several years - "ever since they did away with compulsory service" - he said he has watched the crime problem grow.

"For two years or four years, you got room and board, you learned a trade, and when you got out, there was the G.I. Bill so you could go to school," Altamirano said.

But no discussion of possible solutions to the out-of-control crime problem - described by one Long Beach resident as a "societal ulcer" - would be complete without looking at three suggestions: The deployment of more police, the decriminalization of some drugs and gun control.