Twenty against the mob

In appointing a commission to determine new ways of fighting organized crime, President Reagan is tacitly acknowledging that current federal and local anticrime efforts have proven ineffective. True, there continue to be a number of arrests and indictments of key crime figures and drug dealers here and there. But, as US Court of Appeals Judge Irving R. Kaufman notes, when crime figures are convicted, new ones merely replace them. ''We lack,'' said Judge Kaufman, who will head up the 20-member commission, ''a comprehensive strategy'' for dealing with organized crime.

The commission, which is seeking subpoena power from Congress, is expected to operate somewhat like the inquiries into organized crime conducted by Senators Kefauver and McClellan back in the 1950s. The commission will travel around the US, holding hearings in selected cities.

Judge Kaufman, for his part, brings a sharp legal mind and toughness to his new role. Although known as a liberal in civil rights and civil liberties cases in recent years, Judge Kaufman is also known as the judge who presided over the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the early 1950s, and who, following their conviction, pronounced their death sentences.

While applauding the idea of a new commission, many Americans will likely have some qualms about the fact that the panel is not required to submit its report until March 1, 1986, some three years from now. Yet, much is already known about organized crime and the multibillion-dollar-a-year narcotics trade.

Indeed, there seems little doubt that wrongdoers would not be able to function as effectively as they do in the United States were it not for the indifference of millions of Americans.

If the public, and the nation's lawmakers, sought to prosecute organized crime with the same zeal that is brought to the resolution of so many popular political and social issues, the climate for wrongdoing would to a large extent dry up.

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