Cracking down on crime

FEDERAL and local law enforcement agencies in the United States and Italy deserve the broadest public support for their systematic -- and courageous -- crackdown on organized crime. At issue in the scores of arrests that have been made on both sides of the Atlantic in recent months is nothing less than asserting the authority of duly constituted government itself: Organized crime, in whatever form, cannot be allowed to establish its own extensive and shadowy network of ``commissions,'' ``authority,'' and ``families'' that run parallel to, and inevitably seek to subvert, legally constituted government.

Yet, as the unhappy history of organized crime shows, that effort to counter crime's encroachment has not succeeded well enough over the years, as criminals, using intimidation and force, have extended their grip over such illicit activities as prostitution, the drug trade, labor racketeering, loan sharking, and gambling.

The current indictments -- and subsequent trials -- should provide essential information to Americans about the hidden financial and social costs of organized crime, as well as its penetration into legitimate businesses. As pointed out by Rudolph Giuliani, the United States attorney in Manhattan, ``things cost a lot more'' because of the hidden influence of organized crime.

Although welcoming the current crackdown -- including this week's indictment of individuals charged with being members of a commission running the five ``crime families'' in New York -- it is well to keep in perspective the long-range challenge involved in ferreting out criminal activity. The historical record clearly suggests the importance of persistence. In the 1940s, for example, crime leaders were brought before widely publicized congressional committees. A number of individuals were deported. In 1957, some 20 top crime leaders were arrested at an organized-crime gathering in upstate New York and subsequently convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Their convictions were eventually overturned.

Noting all this is not to detract from the genuine accomplishment of law enforcement agencies in gaining this week's indictments. But it does underscore the importance of continuing vigilance -- and support of the legal agencies involved. In the current New York situation, as pointed out by FBI Director William Webster, a key leadership group of organized crime in the US has now been ``brought to the bar of justice.''

The indictments will presumably add up to a period of costly legal battles for those involved. That in turn is expected to disrupt the foundations of existing crime networks.

A final point seems in order: Obviously, organized crime could not flourish in a community without the support or complicity of many people. Case in point: the drug trade.

The drug trade is no longer the sole province of European-linked crime syndicates. Latin American and Asian crime groups are increasingly involved.

Curbing crime, in other words, cannot be left just to law enforcement agencies, or publicized assaults on particular crime groups, although such efforts are vital. Also required is a clearer regard for the inherent integrity and completeness of mankind available in wholly legal and open activities -- an integrity that rules out any need for activities connected with organized crime. ------30{et

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