EDITOR’S PAGE

When it comes to the war on crime, the mayoral candidates have differing battle strategies

It was 3 o’clock in the morning when they sat bolt upright in bed, awakened by the sound of shattering glass. A tentative tiptoed investigation failed to turn up the source of the crash. So they settled, uncomfortably, to try again to sleep. A while later, they heard what they assumed to be _ the next-door neighbor backing his car down the driveway. By morning, they learned of their mistaken assumption. The couple’s own car, hot-wired by thieves, had been driven away into the night.

That robbery occurred on my block-and it’s just one of eleven break-ins we’ve had over the past ninety days. Everybody groans at the appalling statistics of increasing crime, but it never really hits home until it hits home.

For many months now, news of the rising crime rate has mounted a disturbing crescendo, which, late in January, reached a deafening climax. Dallas-the city that works, the city of vision and spirit and grit-is the major crime capital of the nation. We have the dubious distinction of being ranked fourth in the U.S. in numbers of murders reported, fourth in rapes, and sixteenth in robberies, according to the latest official estimates by the FBI.

Suddenly all of the other issues that plague us-the prospect of rezoning, noise at Love Field, cuts in funding for the arts, even Central Expressway-pale in the looming shadow of The Criminal.

It follows then, that the four major candidates running for mayor-Jim Buerger, Jim Collins, Fred Meyer, and Annette Strauss-have identified crime as their Number One Campaign Theme. Each has heartily endorsed the recommendations of Mayor Taylor’s task force on criminal justice, enthusiastically backing its proposed measures in favor of tougher parole regulations, more citizen initiatives like Crime Watch, better rehabilitation for criminals, and the like. Three of the candidates have called for the hiring of more police officers; candidate Fred Meyer has taken a wait-and-see stance.

But within their general agreement that crime is a vile public menace are individual differences in their anti-crime strategies that offer insight into the candidates’ personalities and varied approaches to problem-solving. To wit:

“You never get called upon until the ox is in the ditch.” This catchy colloquialism pretty much sums up the reasons for former U.S. Representative Jim Collins’s candidacy, As far as this conservative seventy-year-old businessman/politician is concerned, the ox is in the ditch, and his name is Crime. Collins believes we need to stop dumping on the police, and he’d start by beginning every city council meeting with a recognition ceremony for some police officer or citizen who had done something to prevent crime. Collins abhors the fact that some of his former fellow congressmen will be coming down here to investigate the police shooting of Etta Collins and fears that the whole hoopla will give Dallas a national “black eye.” The former congressman is also a proponent of community work sentences in lieu of prison time, when it’s appropriate. “Let ’em get out on a cold day and pick up trash. It’ll be invigorating,” he says.

“The buck stops here.” The new fellow on the block, publishing magnate Jim Buerger, can spout crime stats faster than you can say recidivism three times. According to Buerger, 60 percent of our prisoners are functionally illiterate; 50 percent are born of unwed mothers; 75 percent of crimes are drug-related; and 20 percent of the TDC early releases come to the Dallas area. Buerger measures performance in his businesses by “success indicators,” and as mayor, he would apply the same principle to fighting crime. The most unique Buergerism is a proposal to put police officers in the schools to reinforce discipline procedures, encourage attendance, and generally provide good role models. Buerger even suggests that a police officer, after a certain tenure in the schools, ought to be issued a teaching certificate and given a chance at a new career.

“We have to get at the real roots of crime.” Of the four, Annette Strauss is the most vocal on the need to create new preventive and rehabilitative programs that deal with drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, homelessness, poverty, and other social ills. What Strauss has going for her is a track record as a two-term council member and actions that back up her words. As mayor pro tern, she chaired a task force on indigent teenage drug abuse, and almost single-handedly opened the city’s first family shelter for the homeless. Strauss also favors 150 new police recruits, more separation of violent and nonviolent criminals, and an open dialogue between police and an increasingly suspicious minority community.

“Apprehension is not our problem.” Longtime chairman of the county Republican party Fred Meyer’s major campaign thrust is economic revitalization, but crime gets a big push, too, Meyer does not automatically concede the need for more police officers, and he chides his rivals (Annette Strauss in particular) for “picking numbers out of the air” without knowing how much the new recruits will cost the city. Meyer’s plan is to exert pressure on the state legislature and the governor to expedite Dallas’s legislative package on crime; he is especially adamant about keeping potential repeat offenders off the streets. With Meyer’s connections, it’s a safe bet that he’ll get a hearing in Austin, especially in the governor’s mansion. Here at home. Meyer favors outfitting the Hall Street blues with high-tech equipment that will increase their efficiency on the job-like computers in squad cars and electronic fingerprint scanning machines.

Obviously all of the candidates stand poised to lead the new assault on crime, and the mere fact that crime is a high priority for each is a step in the right direction. It may be that this latest barrage of statistical shocks will force us to look at all of the proposed measures and more. Mayor Taylor is certainly owed the appreciation of all Dallas citizens for taking a leadership role in studying the problem and creating a package of remedies. Dallas is out front in the state on this one, and we can be proud of that.

But we must continue to focus on the deeper issues that cause crime: economic disparity, racial tensions, the dissolution of families, unemployment, poor education. And what each of us must ask ourselves before we punch our ballots on April 4 is, which of the four candidates for mayor has the strength, the creativity, the character, and the leadership skills to command the current war on crime?

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