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Crime forum a capital trip

Brooksville police Chief Ed Tincher spent a part of the weekend studying a copy of the anti-crime legislation pending in Congress so he'd be ready for a meeting with the Clinton administration Wednesday.

But when he arrived on a snowy day in the capital, he was surprised to find 150 other local officials just like him at the old Executive Office Building, and a set of Washington-types a little too busy for give and take.

"I would like to see more participation and they didn't apparently have time for that," Tincher said afterward.

Brooksville City Council member Luther Cason agreed: "I just wish I could have had more input into it."

The same goes for a lot of the police and community leaders from Florida and two other states who came to Washington to talk about crime. They liked their 2{-hour meeting with Vice President Al Gore, Attorney General Janet Reno and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros. But they wished they had a greater chance to shape the legislation.

Like many of the law enforcement experts present Wednesday, Tincher said he is generally pleased with President Clinton's calls for 100,000 new police officers, an emphasis on community policing, more boot camps for non-violent offenders and life sentences for three-time violent offenders. But Tincher would like to make a few changes.

One problem: Tincher hopes to encourage adults to keep their firearms out of the reach of children and burglars. Though he supports the right to bear arms, Tincher wants to make sure guns don't get in the wrong hands.

"I don't see anything in this bill that advocates shifting the onus back on people who own these guns that the kids are stealing," Tincher said in an interview after the meeting.

One of his North Suncoast colleagues, Citrus County Sheriff Charlie Dean, also liked what he learned Wednesday about the crime bill. But he worries that tough new sentencing laws and more police officers could fill up prisons that are already overcrowded, especially if more prisons aren't built.

"For every action, you're going to have a reaction," Dean said.

Dean had more than one mission Wednesday. Rather than staying to enjoy, as Dean put it, "tea and crumpets with the vice president," the Democratic sheriff left the meeting early to testify before Congress against a Clinton proposal to cut federal money that is used by local police departments.

Dean asked a House Governmental Operations subcommittee to save the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant program, which sent $19.07-million to Florida in fiscal year 1993. Dean says the Byrne money is important in helping his department and others investigate crimes and prevent drug abuse.

Other local officials are complaining about Clinton's plans to cut the Byrne money as well. However, many of them were pleased that Clinton and Reno seem more willing than their predecessors to allow cities and counties to use federal money on what works best for them at the local level.

"I think it's a very good bill," said Cason, the Brooksville city councilman. "This bill, I think, deals a little more with the grass roots than past bills."

Cason, though, had a caveat. He has qualms about Clinton's "three strikes and you're out" proposal that puts three-time violent offenders behind bars for life.

The council member would like to make sure that only the most violent offenders qualify for the tough sentence. "If you don't you're going to clog up the system," he said. As the legislation is written right now, he said, "I think it's a little too broad."