IT'S BEEN painful to watch Mayor Street squirm these days as he tries to defend his failed effort to stem the city's surge of shootings and homicides.

Make that painful to listen.

Because some of the mayor's remarks have bordered on the ridiculous.

And I'm not even talking about blaming the city's violence, in part, on the war in Iraq.

I'm talking about his objection to declaring a state of emergency in crime-ridden neighborhoods, which Michael Nutter - a former councilman, mayoral candidate and Street rival - has proposed.

The state of emergency would allow the imposition of aggressive crime-fighting procedures, including a curfew for all residents, a limit on public gatherings and expanded "stop-and- frisk" tactics.

Street thinks it's a terrible idea, an opinion that's no doubt shared by many.

But his reasoning - that declaring a crime emergency would suggest to residents that "you're less free in this neighborhood than other neighborhoods," as he told the Inquirer - overlooks the obvious:

The residents of crime-infested neighborhoods are already less free than people in other neighborhoods, for God's sake.

They're not free to walk safely to the corner store. They're not free to sit peacefully on their front steps. They're not free to let their children play outside.

They're prisoners in their own homes, trapped by ruthless drug gangs who rule the streets.

If they have to be captives, better it be to a police effort designed to liberate them than to the thugs who hold them hostage.

But don't ask me.

Ask someone who lives there.

Ask someone whose office is on a street where there have been two murders.

Ask someone whose son was slain by a bullet.

Ask Shirley Boggs, who lives in one of the most dangerous police districts in the city, the 22nd, which has headquarters at 17th and Montgomery and which would surely be a Targeted Enforcement Zone under Nutter's plan.

Boggs acknowledges the "stop-and-frisk" tactic is troubling "because law-abiding citizens do have rights."

"But people are tired of the bloodshed in our streets, and I think it's like a tradeoff, it really is," said Boggs, who founded Mothers United Through Tragedy Inc. after her son was killed 10 years ago.

"People want results but they don't want extreme measures. But you can't get results without extreme measures.

"You're already a hostage in your neighborhood. I'd welcome the extreme measures because eventually, it's going to give me freedom."

It's no surprise that a tactic like "stop-and-frisk" - no matter how successful it's been in other cities, which it has been - was met with wariness here.

Who can forget Operation Cold Turkey, the Police Department's 1985 antidrug sweep in Spring Garden that cost taxpayers $6 million in civil-rights lawsuits?

But it can be done constitutionally, if police are adequately trained. It's only one aspect of a criminal emergency. And it's way past time for bold measures, even controversial ones.

The stop-and-start initiatives taken by this administration haven't worked. And Street's failure to communicate a sense of urgency about the mayhem has left a hunger for aggressive measures.

But even if you're opposed to declaring a criminal emergency, the idea that it would make people feel less free than they already do is ridiculous.

Just ask Shirley Boggs.

"It will get a lot of guys off the street that are criminals and that are carrying weapons.

"And once they're off the street," she said, "I can sigh a little relief because I'm able to walk out my door and not feel like a bullet is going to come whizzing past me." *

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