Paul V. Coates–Confidential File

Sept. 4, 1957

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The city of New York stands in armed terror today.

Its terrorists are kids–the children of its adults.

With knives and guns and razors they have sliced and blasted open the heart of the biggest metropolis in the United States.

The terror was a long time coming.

And the cure is probably a long and expensive time away.

It scares me. Even though New York is 3,000 miles away, it scares me.

Partly because I read this week about the juvenile gang murder of an 18-year-old girl on L.A.’s South Side.

Partly because I know our juvenile problem is not lessening.

And partly because I know that we–as a city and a county–are headed
100% in the wrong direction in taking any precautions. And we don’t
seem to care.

Recently, the County Probation Department was the victim of an unfortunate budget slash, apparently inspired by us, the people.

We gave them less money to operate. We granted them no new staff.

And then we told them to take over Juvenile Hall. We tossed them an
extra forestry camp to staff and operate. And we pulled all juvenile
traffic cases away from police agencies and shoved them into their lap.

The added load, of course, makes efficiency a near-impossibility.

But the tragedy is born in what the Probation Department is going to
have to do to meet it, to stretch its already strained staff.

It is going to wipe out its only section focused strictly on prevention.

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And the prevention service it rendered was that of deterring gang warfare.

The section is (by the end of the month, we can use the past tense)
known as Group Guidance. It includes 11 deputy probation officers who
move into juvenile trouble areas and work with the groups of kids we
distastefully refer to as "gangs" and "rat packs."

Recommended case load per officer is two areas. Some officers carry three or four.

Their approach is a broad and intelligent one. They don’t move into an
area with a "meet me here and we’ll start a club" attitude. They’re
pros–highly skilled, highly educated, highly trained.

They work with individual kids as individuals–trying to change the
leaders, to break up the "group-mind" which germinates in gangs.

They also work with community organizations and leaders to get them to
shoulder some of the responsibility and to change their often aloof and
disdainful attitudes toward juvenile troublemakers.

And, though they don’t admit it, they’ve been directly responsible for
breaking down hate barriers between numerous police officers and the
kids.

That, possibly, is the most ticklish and important job of all.

Kids with no respect for police have no respect for law or for society.
And too often our "officers of peace" prefer to employ rousting and
harassing techniques rather than try to find a meeting ground built on
a little understanding.

I have, over the years, watched Group Guidance officers in action.

I’ve considered some of their accomplishments plain miracles.

They work doctors’ hours. They get into the homes. They help the kids’
parents fill out income tax forms. They find jobs for the kids. They
loan them money. They help them out of some embarrassing scrapes.

Yet, all the time they’re working to instill social responsibility into
them, to give them confidence, as individuals and as a group–and to
channel it constructively.

But I’d hate to tell you how much they’re getting paid for their sweat.

Instead, I’ll just say that if they can save just two kids a year from
one-year jail terms they are more than repaying us taxpayers their
salary.

When a Group Guidance officer moves into a new area, he usually finds
that between 50-100% of the kids are on probation and parole.

The duration of his stay is determined by the drop in the percentage.

I remember one officer, Al Collier, who stepped into a rough section
where 75% of juveniles were on probation and parole a few years ago.

When he was pulled out to enter another area, the percentage was down to 10.

Logic dictates that the man not only saved money for our community but also saved some people from very personal grief.

But, when penny pinching’s involved, logic often gets tossed out the window.

Besides, we’ll be needing the money to build bigger and better prisons.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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