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Public Papers - 1991 - August

Remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Fraternal Order of Police in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1991-08-14

Thank you all. And Dewey, thank you for that very generous introduction. The Government has a good relationship with this outstanding organization. Many of you have been to the White House. Many more I hope will come. But I want to thank your president for the introduction and for his leadership.

I want to, of course, salute the Attorney General, Dick Thornburgh, so well-known to everybody, not just in Pittsburgh, but across this country, for the job he's done for law enforcement. I want to thank the members of the Fraternal Order of Police, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank all of you, all 3,000 of you, for the warmth of that greeting.

Now I know how Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla feel over at Three Rivers Stadium. [Laughter] I don't think so many great defenders have gathered in Pittsburgh since the last reunion of the Steelers' Super Bowl teams. [Laughter]

A couple of years ago, 2 years ago, I was scheduled to address you. I couldn't because of the tragic death of an American hostage. Maybe you all remember him. I certainly do: Colonel William Higgins. Today, I am delighted to be here at a time when hostages are being released from the Middle East.

This is a very difficult time, let's face it, for the families of those still held hostage. For years they've endured the cruel water torture, you might say, of occasional vague promises followed by crushing disappointment. They've seen their loved ones used as political puppets, but they haven't been able to identify the puppeteers.

We cannot tell, I wish I could tell you, but we cannot tell what lies ahead. But this administration will never rest until every hostage is free to rejoin his loved ones and return to the America that loves them.

I think it's appropriate to say that I want to once again express my strong support to Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar of the United Nations for his continuing efforts to free all the hostages. They're doing a good job there and trying hard, and we support him 100 percent.

And I look out over this crowd, and I expect many fought in the war preceding Desert Storm. And I might say to those who did serve in Vietnam, while we're talking about accounting for people: We will do everything to our level-best to account for every single MIA in the Vietnam area.

I'm here today because, as in the Middle East, our entire administration opposes chaos and lawlessness, and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those who strive for law and order. And Dewey, once again, thank you for your kind words.

As you well know, there are no magic, one-step solutions to the complex problems of crime and drugs. In some cases, education, employment, career counseling -- these things sometimes can help turn prisoners into productive citizens. And we recognize that. Drug rehabilitation can direct ex-drug users toward useful lives. But sometimes these means don't work. And we must remember that the first obligation of a penal system is to punish those who break our laws.

Today, I want to discuss ways in which we can help free America from the fear of crime and drugs, and in the process thank those of you in this organization who have had a constructive input into the legislation that I want to talk about. Frankly, I am proud of our domestic agenda, our administration's domestic agenda. We have strong initiatives in child care and clean air and home ownership and transportation, and other areas as well. But I'm especially proud of our war on crime. Our outgoing Attorney General, with me here today, Dick Thornburgh, has played a tremendous role in this fight. And he's taken his job as America's chief law enforcement officer very seriously. Relentlessly, tenaciously, he's pursued those who prey on our society.

Dick, on behalf of all Americans I want to thank you in this, your home town of Pittsburgh, for your superb service to our country as Attorney General. Leaving politics aside, this Nation owes you a real vote of gratitude.

We come here armed with some good news. Last year the percentage of American households affected by crime fell to an estimated 24 percent, the lowest rate since the Federal Government introduced this indicator in 1975. But as good as that may sound, it is hard to celebrate the fact that nearly one in every four households feels the touch of crime each year. So today let's talk about building an America even more deeply committed to the values that make law and order possible.

One good step in my view would be to ensure that Clarence Thomas becomes the next Justice on the United States Supreme Court. This man knows, Clarence Thomas knows, as Teddy Roosevelt said, that America will not be a good place for any of us until it is a good place for all of us to live in. He has lived the values that we hold dear: duty, decency, and personal responsibility. And he's promoted those values through his career in public service.

I don't know how many saw the announcement I made up in Maine with Clarence by my side when I announced this appointment, but his personal story cannot help but move people, inspire them.

I nominated Judge Thomas because he has the brains and the background, the character to promote fidelity to the Constitution and to uphold our commitment to equal opportunity. I ask you to help support those values by urging the Senate to confirm Clarence Thomas as our next Supreme Court Justice.

Values, values is what we're talking about. It's what drives you in your careers. We can't underestimate the importance of these values since, as you know, police cannot maintain the peace without the help, the support, and the respect of the people they serve.

When you deal with crime's victims and its perpetrators, you know that our citizens want and deserve to feel safe, to live in communities in which they are safe. But no one should underestimate the difficulty of bringing order to streets decimated by lawlessness and chaos.

First, our administration is committed to rewarding good police work. By the end of this year, we will have 50 percent more Federal prosecutors than in 1988. We're on our way to doubling the capacity of the Federal prisons. That will help us house more than 2,500 dangerous criminals convicted since 1989 under tough Federal laws that require a mandatory 5-year sentence for using a gun in a violent crime or a drug trafficking offense.

We've acted to curb potential furlough abuse. Under Dick Thornburgh, and I salute him for this, we've tightened the furlough review process for inmates, further restricting the already limited furlough opportunities for Federal offenders. In April of 1989 the furlough rate was 1.2 per 100 inmates. This April it'll be less than half that. And of course, no furloughs are granted for anyone serving a sentence of life without parole. There will be no let-up. Furlough is a privilege, and it's not a right.

And again, with the help of many here, our administration has acted to punish hardened criminals -- career -- what you all call career criminals -- under the Federal Armed Criminal Career Act. You shouldn't have to endure the frustration of watching a seasoned criminal walk free because we didn't have the facilities or the prosecutors or the will to take the law, and our law enforcement officers, seriously. We would like every State to have tough laws to deal with violent criminals. But we're not waiting for those who don't.

Project Triggerlock, started just in April, already has produced 850 indictments against persons for firearm offenses. Together, we've seized criminals' assets, using them to fund law enforcement and building new prisons. More than 0 million of the assets seized have been returned to State and local law enforcement agencies for use in fighting crime. You talk about poetic justice; that's it. And it's long overdue.

But this is just a beginning, and you know it. You're out there on the front lines. You know it better than I do. We have a very good chance this year of passing the administration's comprehensive package to combat violent crime. Nearly two and a half years ago I announced our Violent Crime Act legislation, asking Congress to back up our law enforcement officials with laws that are fair, fast, and final. That package starts with a commonsense proposition: Don't send police into battle wearing handcuffs.

And so, we proposed stiff penalties for criminals using semiautomatic weapons, an improved exclusionary rule, and habeas corpus reforms. These proposals -- and if you haven't seen them, take a look at them -- these proposals tell criminals: You will serve the time. They also tell police and law-abiding citizens: We will reclaim our neighborhoods and streets.

Our package also says: Let's give our law officers the respect they deserve, in part by imposing the death penalty on those who kill a law enforcement officer.

Our proposals impose tough punishment on drug kingpins who threaten a Federal witness or a juror or a judge. We want a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. There's no reason, none at all, that good police officers should be penalized and criminals freed because a judge or lawyer bungled a search warrant. We want habeas corpus reform that will prevent criminals and lawyers from using technicalities to gum up our justice system.

In short, the time has come to show less compassion for the architects of crime and more compassion for its victims. And you all know it: no group suffers more from violent crime than the poor, a group most heavily victimized by lawlessness.

Working with Congress, we reauthorized the 1984 Victims of Crime Act and boosted its annual Victims Compensation and Assistance Fund to 0 million. These dollars came not from taxpayers but from criminals' fines and penalties. After all, crime shouldn't pay; let the criminals pay it for a change. And that's what happens as we try to support these victims of crime.

We stepped up efforts to implement the Victim-Witness Protection Act and the new Victims' Rights and Restitution Act. And let me note how our Violent Crime Control Act of 1991 gives further aid to innocent victims of crime. It includes new protections for witnesses and abused kids. It provides rules that make it easier to prosecute those who commit sexual violence against women and children. It imposes mandatory HIV testing of accused sex offenders, and it guarantees a victim's right to address the court at sentencing.

I'm very happy that a bipartisan coalition in the Senate has passed a crime bill that includes most of the features in our original legislation. We now look for the House Judiciary Committee to act in an equally responsible manner, so that the full House may follow suit.

To build upon this Nation's commitment to order, we must enact a comprehensive crime bill that lets police uphold our laws. But at the same time, we should be very careful not to make police responsible for creating peace everywhere.

After all, the fight against crime is everyone's business. Families and neighborhoods, and schools and churches, and drug shelters and businesses and the media -- everyone must join this fight. You cannot do your jobs if citizens don't call you, don't trust you, don't work with you. And you can't turn bad people into saints.

For 75 years, this organization, the Fraternal Order of Police, has supported the men and women who have the tough duty of keeping the peace. I pledge my support, and I offer this commitment: Our administration will help you take criminals off the streets, so that Americans can take back their streets.

Barbara asked that I specifically bring you her greetings. She's up to her eyeballs in the grandchild business, as we're on vacation over there in Maine. [Laughter] But I want to just say this, since several in our receiving line mentioned her. She agrees with this and stands with you all, particularly the family aspects of this -- the wives and the children who see their husbands out on the line or the husbands who see their wives out on the line, protecting the communities in this country. And we are grateful to each and every one of you for what you do every single day.

Now, you keep up the good work. Thanks for what you've done. Thanks for your support. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:49 a.m. at the David Lawrence Convention Center. In his remarks, he referred to Dewey R. Stokes, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police; Attorney General Dick Thornburgh; Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, members of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team; American hostage Col. William Higgins, who was executed by his captors in 1989; United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar de la Guerra; and Judge Clarence Thomas, nominee for Supreme Court Associate Justice. Following his remarks, the President returned to Kennebunkport, ME.

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