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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

September 4, 2007 | 12:35 pm

Sept. 4, 1957

Paul_coates_2 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.

1957_0902_mirror 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.