There has been much talk about the crime problem, but little effective action has been taken.
This week, however, we did see some promising movement in the right direction.
Montgomery County State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner has "declared war" on burglars. He was persuaded the county executive to ask for $39,000 to create three new positions in the state's attorney's office -- not an impressive sum, but better than nothing. He is assigning seven assistants to a special team that will handle "all burglary cases as well as drug and juvenile cases" -- a significant move in that it recognizes the connection between drugs, youth and crime. And he will ask judges to give jail time in all convictions, even for first offenders.
Concurrently, area police and the FBI have delivered a major blow to those who deal in stolen goods.
So of the five major fronts on which we could be attacking crime, we have moved on 1 1/2, but remain woefully lacking on the other 3 1/2.
The five obvious moves to curb crime appear to me to be:
1. Youth programs: Effective ideas for keeping young people in school until they are qualified to earn an honest living in an economy that makes a place for them. Effective two-way communication with young people that ensures we will listen to their problems and help them find answers to them while simultaneously transmitting to them adult concepts of morality.
2. A much more comprehensive and vigorous attack against local, national and international drug traffic than anything we have done to date.
3. Adequate numbers of trained police officers to enforce the laws.
4. Speedy and appropriate punishment for those convicted of crimes. Special attention must be given to juvenile offenders, who commit about half of all burglaries these days. Sonner found that 76 percent of his county's burglars were under 21 years of age and that 74 percent were repeat offenders with an average of six arrests. Only 4 percent were sent to jail.
5. Unrelenting war against fences and others who profit from crime.
We have achieved little toward these goals. One giant blow has been delivered against dealers in stolen property, and therefore against thieves. And public opinion has swung to the view that our juvenile laws are ineffective and our judges are too lenient. But one prosecutor's asking for swift and effective punishment for all offenders does not mean he will get what he asks for, nor will it change juvenile laws, judicial processes or ineffective sentencing practices. So, at best, we can claim success in one category, partial success in another, and zilch in the other three.
If the FBI is correct in its claim that major fencing operations have been shut down, there may be fewer burglaries for a while, at least until the thieves find new ways to get rid of their loot. Little else will change.
Yesterday's Washington Post story about the arrest of suspected dealers in stolen merchandise quoted law enforcement officials as saying of the two major suspects: "Each man has professed innocence and called the other a crook." Lawmen say they found about $250,000 in cash in one suspect's safe, and the IRS has already filed $879,000 worth of liens against him, so it appears there is enough at stake to keep many lawyers gainfully employed for a long time.