Letters for the week of August 2-8, 2006

More on the police shortage and the link between war and crime. Some cautions about the plan to build a biolab in Livermore.

“The War’s Impact on East Bay Streets,” City of Warts, 7/5

The coming shortage
I read your article with enthusiasm and it stressed everything I have felt was coming in the past ten years. I am a 22-year veteran police officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I am a 45-year-old part of the baby-boom generation that makes up the majority of every police force in Canada/USA. We all will be retiring en masse within the next ten years. As a result, there will be major shortages in the policing field that will be unprecedented.

With the baby boomer generation’s children coming of age of majority, they will certainly spike the national crime rate. I don’t feel city managers have done enough to bolster their police forces and now we’re all paying the price for it. The officers that are working the front line are getting BURNT OUT from a workload never before seen. It’s getting harder to recruit good men and women, because people in general don’t have the same physical fitness criteria that us older officers came into the profession with decades ago. Today there is more drug use among young adults, rendering them unfit for the police profession as well as far more obese young adults with major health issues, i.e., diabetes, etc.

I don’t know what the answer will be, but unfortunately the cure doesn’t seem to be anywhere close by!
Glenn Pinto, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

The war hits home
I would like to mention another facet of the relationship between war and rising crime rates. Soldiers’ return from war correlates with substantially increased domestic homicide and assault rates (Culture-of-Peace.info/SSOVnews303/page7.html). This correlation appears to be true across cultures, with evidence pointing from war to interpersonal violence. Furthermore, Bay Area crime statistics no doubt reflect rates of domestic violence among military personnel, five times as high as the civilian population. This is due perhaps to ex-combatant trauma and lack of support for returning soldiers. The communities that are most hard hit are also those who are most likely to fight our wars abroad. The prices we pay for distant wars hit home in many ways.

Eden Tosch, Oakand

“The Coming Plague?,” Water Cooler, 6/21

Science, not fear
“The Coming Plague” makes some good points about safety at area biodefense labs. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to make decisions based solely upon irrational fear. However, comparing local biolabs with the lab planned for Livermore is like comparing apples and oranges.

Livermore Lab’s planned biofacility is not the fortress the editorial would have us believe. It is a prefabricated trailer made by a company who claims they can design, build, and deliver prefab labs in 180 days. Further, Livermore Lab won’t be experimenting with a few teaspoons — or “drops” as your editorial described. Instead, they’ve given themselves approval to house one hundred liters of some of the most deadly bioagents known. A few drops really is nothing to scoff at in the first place, considering that two grams of live anthrax represents up to 25 million times the inhaled lethal dose.

Mr. Mechanic’s commentary also claims that in the past fifty years of operation, there has never been a breach. Well, I am not sure how you define a breach, but Livermore Lab documents reveal incidents such as needle sticks and anthrax being thrown out with the trash. Although it’s true no catastrophic human release of bioagents has occurred in this country that I’m aware of, this type of research has never been so prolific either. US biodefense spending has skyrocketed since September 11. Good planning, coordination, and oversight have not kept up with the mad rush for biodefense funding. Livermore Lab has come out a winner — hastily getting not only the biolab that we speak of but other bioprojects as well.

Now Livermore Lab would like to build a thirty-acre maximum-containment facility at their nuclear explosion testing area in Tracy. Mr. Mechanic’s commentary may have thrown cold water on the “fear factor,” and sometimes that is needed, but it did not acknowledge the unchecked growth of US biolabs or the specific risks unique to the Livermore facility. I think decisions should be made on the basis of sound analysis rather than fear and it is our government that is failing that test by building new labs all around the country to “protect us” without careful study or oversight.
Loulena Miles, Berkeley

Remember Bhopal
Most Americans want to believe in their government and its assurances of safety. The fact is, men who have no reason to find fault with the institution they make their living from will continue to paint it in a favorable light, and there’s big bio money available now. But are DOE biofacilities safe? Their long history of nuclear and toxic chemical spills, accidents, releases, and human error is well documented. As far as biocontainment, here in California alone there was an incident at Children’s Hospital just last year where a “trusted” facility mistakenly shipped live anthrax for research instead of dead. Last year in a Davis agricultural research biofacility, monkeys escaped. Both these went unreported for a while.

When attorneys such as Steve Volker sue the DOE, they seek a discussion on the issues and compliance with the law. It’s media that frames the argument, and when you use the word “hype” in the subtitle of your comments you dismiss genuine discussion and public oversight as hysteria. Do you really believe your government so much that you think Bhopal, Three Mile Island, or Chernobyl is impossible in the biocontainment area? There wasn’t even an earthquake or hurricane involved.
Ann Seitz, Hayward

“Free as a Bird Now,” Feature, 6/21

Free flight
I enjoyed your informative and engaging article on hang gliding. However, according to the International Federation of Aviation (FAI.org), the current world record for straight distance in a hang glider is 435 miles, not the 263 miles listed in the article.

Geoffrey W. Rutledge, San Mateo

The letter writer is correct.

In last week’s Press Play, we misidentified the singer of Bloodhag, Jake Stratton.

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