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Cops face uphill battle fighting gangs

Local columnists

Posted: July 20, 2008 1:25 a.m.
Updated: September 20, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
Cities and counties across California are becoming war zones as gangs fight and kill for control of streets and larger shares of the drug market and other criminal enterprises.

Los Angeles is home to about 45,000 gang members. Yet despite this large army of criminals occupying our streets, only about 20,000 sheriff’s deputies and police officers defend innocent, law-abiding Los Angeles County residents. Other California communities don’t fare much better.

Statewide, California has a total of 75,622 sworn peace officers — which is significantly less than the gang membership of California, estimated to be upwards of 420,000, according to the attorney general.

This lopsided 5-to-1 ratio makes fighting gangs an uphill battle for law enforcement.

As the following chart indicates, California lags behind the next largest states when it comes to officer-to-citizen ratio. It is also well below the national average.

If California had the same officer-to-citizen ratio as Texas, it would have 87,450 sworn peace officers. If it had the same ratio as New York State, it would have a robust 123,290 sworn peace officers.

There is a reason why New York City is among the safest large cities in America — they have plenty of officers walking the beat.

Cuts in public safety spending are one of the reasons for this lack of police coverage, even though California government spending has ballooned. In fact, during the past five years, general government expenditures have increased 73 percent, while public safety programs have declined by almost 12 percent.

It is time for California to commit to fighting the gang epidemic sweeping the state by swearing in more officers to defend our neighborhoods from violent gangs.

Public safety must be the first priority of government. Let’s make sure our law enforcement has the tools it needs to make our streets safe again.

That’s why Proposition 6, also known as the Safe Neighborhoods Act, will enhance funding for sheriff’s departments and local police agencies, especially in high-growth cities that become ripe targets for gang infestation. Vote “yes” on Proposition 6 in November.

George Runner is state senator for the 17th District. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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