UNITED States mayors, including many seasoned warriors in the battle against lawbreakers, have briefly stepped away from front-line crime-fighting and turned toward Washington in a cry for help.
The mayors and police chiefs from 31 cities, meeting in Chicago, called for strict gun control and stiffer measures against narcotics. But their loudest appeal was for reinforcements from the Clinton administration for their rear-guard campaign against urban violence.
Crime ``is of epidemic seriousness in America and, as a result, we're asking President Clinton to join with us and aggressively get involved in fighting this issue,'' said Jerry Abramson, mayor of Louisville, Ky., and president of the US Conference of Mayors, which sponsored the ``Emergency Meeting on Crime and Violence'' on Nov. 15.
Mayors aren't the only politicians eager to respond to the public's fear of crime.
A package of anti-crime bills has been whizzing through both houses of Congress since its introduction in September. The Senate is expected this week to approve a bipartisan bill that will spend $22 billion to build more prisons and put 100,000 additional police officers on city streets. Last week, senators sought to outdo one another in proposing get-tough amendments, such as making carjacking a federal crime or prohibiting juveniles from carrying guns.
Not to be outdone, House members approved $3.5 billion for the anticrime effort and backed the controversial Brady bill, which mandates a five-day waiting period before the purchase of a handgun. If approved by the Senate, the Brady bill would represent the first gun-control initiative passed by Congress in decades.
President Clinton has tried to wrap himself in law-and-order themes, as well. On Nov. 13, in an impassioned speech to black ministers, the president said, ``Unless we do something about crime and violence and drugs that is ravaging the community, we will not be able to repair this country.''
That message was echoed by many of the winning candidates - and quite a few losers - in the Nov. 2 state and local elections across the country. Black community leaders got into the act with a well-publicized national gathering against gang violence in Chicago last month. During the meeting, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called the push against youth violence ``the new frontier of the civil rights movement.''
The rising outcry among politicians and community leaders seems solidly rooted in public sentiment. Although Justice Department statistics show that crime rates are either holding steady or declining, an April poll sponsored by Harvard's School of Public Health showed that 94 percent of Americans believe that crime has significantly worsened since their youth.
Some of the mayors who gathered here Nov. 15 echoed the impatience of many Americans with national law-enforcement efforts.
``We are at the local level, we are in the trenches every day,'' said Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. ``That's why we're asking the president and Congress to listen to us: We're there, we're in the trenches, they're in Washington, D.C.''
The mayors endorsed the crime legislation moving through Congress - especially hailing the provision that will provide federal money for municipalities to put more police on the streets.
But the mayors went beyond the crime bill's prescriptions in many respects. They called for the imposition of a waiting period before the purchase of all firearms, a ban on the sale and manufacture of assault weapons, and strict measures against firearms possession by minors.
The city leaders advocated mandatory sentencing for criminals convicted of a crime involving a firearm, and urged the federal government to provide city halls with more complete information on who is licensed to sell firearms.
Noting that at least 70 percent of street crimes are related to narcotics, the mayors also urged Clinton and Congress to better focus the efforts of the 39 federal agencies involved in drug enforcement.
But implementing many of the mayors' suggestions may not be easy. For example, an administration proposal to merge the Drug Enforcement Administration into the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been scuttled by opposition from Capitol Hill and Attorney General Janet Reno.
Gun-control measures advocated by the mayors will run into even more opposition, led by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA). But mayors said they were heartened by a recent victory for gun-control in traditionally conservative Salt Lake City. The Utah capital recently banned possession of a firearm by anyone under 18 and required the buyer of a gun to submit to a background check and wait five days before taking possession of the firearm.
``The time has come to take on the NRA and we did it in Salt Lake City,'' said Mayor Deedee Corrandini. ``We are finally at a time in this country when people realize we've got too many guns in the hands of too many people, we've got to get guns out of the hands of our kids, and we can take on the NRA and win.''