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Its broadcasters turn

In 1982, the broadcasting industry began a multiyear public-service program to improve American productivity. President Reagan called it the most significant effort by the private sector since World War II. Campaign spokesman Howard K. Smith said in his biography, "We dared to believe we could make a difference."

Back then, the pressing need was productivity and America's economic survival. Economists warned that our children faced a lower standard of living. Today, the need is to make America safe for our children and grandchildren.

This can be broadcasting's finest hour. No other industry is in a position to take on this important challenge. Once again, radio and TV can be the catalysts for permanent change.

We read that crime is dropping, but people in towns and cities do not feel safe on our streets or in our homes. Crime is pervasive in our society, and, although billions and billions are spent each year on crime programs, little is known about the effectiveness of the programs funded.

Before we continue spending, we need to know which programs work and which programs don't. In other words, we need research.

The Jerry Lee Foundation has endowed The Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at one of our nation's most prominent universities. Heading the center will be one of the most respected, most published criminologists of our time. A formal announcement will be made in early December. Between then and now, I will be talking to broadcasters all over the nation, asking them to join forces in making America a safe place for the future.

We will take the top 30 cities for crime and establish action-research partnerships in each. By concentrating multiple programs in high-crime areas, we will create strategies to make these cities safe for people and, hence, safe for investment and employment.

Broadcasters will create the first serious effort to focus on the nation's top crime hot spots and turn these cities into thriving, productive, safe communities.

Broadcasters will act as catalysts to unite public and private interests in each metropolitan area. We will help fund high-quality, validated research into the causes, prevention and treatment of crime. We will publicize the findings of which programs work and which don't. We will raise the public awareness of the need for Congress to set aside 1% of all crime funding for research and commit to evaluate all the programs it funds.

Why should broadcasters be involved in this program? Because only the broadcasting industry is capable of bringing this issue before the public and government. Because consolidation makes it easier than ever for groups to use their power and influence in local communities.

There are many public-affairs programs on the air, but few have any impact. This project will have enormous impact due to its scope and support from the entire industry. By concentrating on one, easily addressed issue, broadcasters will be able to bring about major changes.

Reducing and preventing crime is a lot more than arrests and jail terms. The more we know, the more we can prevent crime from getting started. Once we get Congress and state and city officials to recognize how vital research is, we can apply the same techniques to dramatically improve education and social services. When we establish a knowledge base, we will be able to change blind spending into focused investing to improve our way of life.

If we maintain the status quo, we may never know how to control and prevent crime. America's broadcasters will give the streets back to America's citizens.