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Persevere, Reno says, and the new crime law will help America's cities; time has come for a two way street.

The nation's chief prosecutor told the country's municipal elected officials their voices must be "loud and clear" in support of tough anti-crime legislation set for consideration when the 103rd Congress reconvenes in January.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, speaking before 4,000 delegates at the closing luncheon session of the National League of Cities' 70th Annual Congress of Cities and Exposition in Orlando, said the ambitious and far-reaching crime bill will "help fight violence and juvenile crime, our nation's biggest public-safety problem."

Calling youth violence the number-one crime problem facing America, Reno lamsbasted conditions that have led to an overloaded juvenile justice system, one that is seen as too lenient because it doesn't punish youth offenders or lets them go free.

"For too long now, too many youngsters have been picked up by your police officers and saying, `Hey man, nothing is going to happen to me. Nothing ever happens to anybody in the juvenile justice system,'" Reno said.

No more, Reno vowed, if cities and their elected officials, social service agencies, and civic organizations work together to assemble a broad attack to control and solve the problem.

The anti-crime bill will help towns and cities curb youth violence and drug-related offenses, Reno said, adding that the nation "has to let young offenders know there's no excuse for hurting other people. Be it poverty or broken homes or wherever you come from, if you put a gun besides someone's head...you're going to be punished, the punishment is going to be fair and firm," drawing loud applause from NLC delegates.

One way to tackle the crime problem head-on is to implement more intervention to rehabilitate first-time offenders before they embark on a [fie of crime, Reno said.

Also, Reno said the nation and local jurisdictions must work to devise programs designed to help young people learn a trade or keep them involved in positive activities as a way of keeping them off the streets.

Recalling a recent conversation with a youth offender in a detention center, Reno said giving young people "something to do in the afternoons and evenings" would keep many would-be young offenders out of trouble and out of public hospitals already overloaded with indigent, uninsured, and underinsured patients. "That youth offender could have another future if we intervene," Reno emphasized.

According to Reno, the $22.3-billion crime bill provides for boot camps to deal with troubled youth, a ban on assault-type weapons, construction of new, much-needed prisons and financing for up to 100,000 law enforcement officers for towns and cities.

Reno also applauded the persevering efforts of Jim and Sarah Brady that led to congressional passage--after several years of frustrated attempts-of new gun-control legislation. The Brady Bill, signed into law by President Bill Clinton just before Thanksgiving Day, mandates a five-day waiting period and criminal background checks on gun buyers. "Jim and Sarah Brady never gave up their fight for federal gun- control legislation...their efforts will make a major difference," Reno said, describing a moving experience at the White House as she observed the Bradys while the president signed the legislation into law.

Continuing her oratory, Reno touched on a familiar topic--what she sees as excessive violence and sex in movies and television programming--and said graphic depictions of violence in the products of "the entertainment industry are bad for our kids and young people."

"We can make a difference," Reno said, calling for basic reforms that will allow the nation to devote more attention and resources to children and families.

For example, the nation's health care reform effort should focus on providing more preventive medical care for all Americans as a way of relieving the crisis facing public hospitals and clinics. Education reform should allow teachers to teach and not become involved in extraordinary paperwork and responsibilities which draws them away from their students and classrooms. And, all Americans should volunteer time and effort to improve the quality of [fie for their neighbors through increased. involvement in programs "that make a difference," a common theme in Reno's 30 minute address which was interrupted by applause 15 times.

Praising the innovative efforts of local leaders and judicial officials at the local, state, and federal levels, Reno said there's ample room for improvement to close the gaps in the criminal justice system.

Reno expressed hope in eliminating "turf wars" among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and suggested the use of more court-alternative programs for non-dangerous offenders so that limited prison cells can be reserved to allow career criminals and violent offenders to "serve meaningful sentences."

Reno--recognizing the diversity, dreams, and problems of America's towns and cities-- said municipal officials have an extraordinary task to perform at the local level and acknowledged the federal government's practice of imposing certain "mandates without dollars."

But, "the cities are on the from lines every day, responding to the challenges of violence and unemployment and have utilized innovative means to attain community goals."

The anti-crime fight which has begun and which will continue in the months ahead is an opportunity for "a real partnership between the federal government and towns and cities. Municipalities must become more self-sufficient so that they can control their own destiny," Reno stressed.

"The time has come for a two-way street, the federal government to address problems not just in criminal justice and public safety, but also health care and education," Reno said.

At the sane time, the cities must continue to let the federal government know what their needs are, what resources are required to help them deal effectively with violence, crime and drugs, homelessness, and innercity problems, Reno said.

"If we can accompish our goals for one child at risk, we can do it for all Americans, for our children are our most precious possession," Reno said to a rousing standing ovation at the end of her address.

Introduced by Carolyn Long-Banks, councilwoman at large from Atlanta, and incoming NLC first vice president, Reno was escorted to the lectern by Glenda Hood, mayor of the host city and NLC past president.

Reaction to Reno's address was swift and enthusiastic. Mayor Hood of Orlando said, "Janet Reno has indeed been a friend of cities and a strong advocate on public-safety and criminal-jusice issues."

Hood noted that two years ago during her tenure as NLC president, she and Reno, then Dade County (Florida) district attorney, testified before Congress and other legislative panels.
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Title Annotation:Attorney General Janet Reno
Author:Darensbourg, Tommy
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Dec 13, 1993
Words:1067
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