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Public Papers - 1992 - June

Question-and-Answer Session With the Michigan Law Enforcement Community in Detroit, Michigan


Q. Mr. President, I have the privilege of not only introducing you, but also to ask the first question. I would like, sir, as most of us have a feeling that drugs is the common denominator of most of the violent crime we have in our society, could you please comment on the relative success of your war on drugs?

The President. That's what we call a slow ball, in a way, in the trade. But first, let me just thank Brooks and thank all of you. I understand people have come from all across the State.

On the war on drugs: One, it's priority; two, it's not without major progress. The major progress lies in the reduction of the amount of cocaine being used by teenagers, and this is very good. We set the goal, I believe it was, at 20 percent. And it's down 60 percent. Where we're not making the progress we should -- and I'm sure every one of you runs into it in one way or another -- is in that age group of 35, these addicted users. It's extraordinarily difficult. And our war on drugs under Governor Bob Martinez, but working cooperatively with the local level, must do better in that area.

We're doing pretty well in interdiction. We've got a broader cooperation, broader use of our military, a stronger cooperation from the Presidents of the countries south of our border. Mexico is doing much better. There's been some differences, but mainly we're getting good cooperation there. The Colombians have been very, very good in terms of cooperation. We're having some difficulties in Peru that have not been enhanced by the recent change down there. But generally speaking, cooperation is better. One of the things I'm trying to do with them, the leaders south of the border, is say, ``Look, we know that you feel that if it weren't for us you wouldn't have the problems of the drug cartels, the narco-traffickers. But we also should tell you we are doing as much as we can and will do everything we can on the demand side of the equation.''

So we've got to keep pushing to reduce demand in this country. Our educational programs are doing better. Incidentally, it will not be solved at the Federal level. You've got to have cooperation in all of what we call the Points of Light, but also the work that you all do with the kids in the communities.

So I'd say I'm proud of the record. The funding, Federal funding, is way up, way up. I think the last figure was billion or something of that nature for the drug war. But I wish I could certify to the American people that the job was done. It's not, and we've just got to keep pushing.

One of the things we'd like to see passed, and maybe I'll get a question on it, is to get our crime bill, which is tough on the criminal, more compassionate for the victim of crime, get that through the Congress. And we simply have not been able to do it. It would be tougher on the death penalty, tougher on habeas corpus reform, tougher on the exclusionary rule reform. And we're hung up in the old thinkers in the Judiciary Committee, particularly of the House of Representatives. So we've got a ways to go there.

Who else?

Q. This past week I was with 35 other top police administrators in the country and spent the week discussing issues of violence in the country. Now, we all know in the profession that violence is not merely a law enforcement problem; it's a problem for society. The Governor in this State has proposed some sweeping changes in education and some changes that will improve the economy in this State. I know this is a question that's very difficult to answer, but briefly, can you tell us what your prescription is for reducing violence in the country?

The President. One of the things that -- and I guess politicians should be careful, but I don't think you need to be too careful -- I am very much concerned with the content of some of the filth and some of the portrayals that go into the families, into the living rooms through the television. I don't think we can censor. They've got to be very careful about censorship. But this morning at a DEA opening of the new DEA building, I spoke out against some of these rap songs that speak out and talk about killing law enforcement officers. I mean, I just think that good taste and decent people ought to know better than to permit those things to be aired across our country. I think that's one area that we can be extraordinarily helpful.

Another, we've got to do better in the whole education front, and that ties in. I don't think you're going to legislate violence away.

Then the third answer I'd give is pass strong legislation at the Federal level that backs up the law enforcement officers. I think that will send as strong a message to criminals as you possibly can. But I know no better deterrent than tough sentencing and having the penalty fit the crime, and so we're working for that on our crime bill. But then it's got to be more than that. It's got to be common sense in programming. It's got to be families intervening to see that they give the kids the advantage of an education at home.

I know we talk about family values, and I am reminded that the mayors from the National League of Cities came to see me. The mayors, liberal mayors, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, nonpartisan, and they said that the single biggest cause of the problems facing the urban area was the decline in the American family. And that gets to your question about violence. So we've now got a Commission, headed by the Governor of Missouri, to try to find ways through legislation to strengthen the family. It might be welfare reform. It might be examining every piece of legislation to see that there's no incentive for husband and wife to live apart. There's things that I think we can do legislatively there. But it's got to also get back to values that kids are taught, taught at home and taught in the school. So that's a combination of ways of looking at it.

Q. When you talk about family values, one of the things that we're really concerned about in the northwest portion of our State is not only the drug problem but more importantly the alcohol problem as probably the most abused drug. In 1968, we took cigarette advertising off the television airwaves of our country. And we have seen a drastic decline in the use of tobacco products until, virtually, they say by the year 2000 we may be almost a smokeless society. Is there any chance that we can get alcohol advertising off television nationally and stop brainwashing our children from the time they're old enough to comprehend?

The President. I think some alcohol is off the airwaves, and I think what the beer people have undertaken now are a lot of public service advertisements on alternate drivers, supporting Mothers Against Drunk Driving, these kinds of programs. Whether it will be ready for Federal legislation, I just don't know. I think right now it would be very difficult to pass that. And I'd like to see the success of the educational campaigns before we go to some total ban on all alcoholic beverage. I do believe that the media themselves have policed pretty well the hard liquor.

Q. What are you doing to have the Solicitor General get before the U.S. Supreme Court on impact decisions in criminal law?

The President. Not being a lawyer, you'll have to tell me what you mean by an impact decision. I'm blessed by not having been to law school -- [laughter] -- some would say it's an enormous handicap, but I don't know. Help. I don't know what an impact decision is, technically.

Q. The ones that -- say, drugs -- the one that was near and dear to my heart was where the Supreme Court allowed our officials to kidnap people in Mexico and bring them back to try here. How are we getting other cases like that before the Supreme Court?

The President. Our Solicitor General is very active in what he brings to the Court. I don't know if there's a formula on it, but the whole emphasis of our administration is to support law enforcement. That one caused some big problems internationally, as you know. But I do think that we've got a good record of trying to get these, if that's an impact decision, an impact decision up for consideration by the Court.

But the big point I'd make, and I hope this doesn't sound too political at this nonpolitical event, is that we're trying to appoint judges to all levels in the court who will interpret, not legislate from the bench. And I think we've got a good record of appointing people who prove to be strong for law enforcement because we use that as a standard and do not use as a standard, kind of passing social legislation from the Federal bench.

I know that there's been some criticism of me in the press, but I'm going to continue to do that because I believe that's what a judge should do, whether it's at the district level or the circuit court level or certainly at the Supreme Court level.

Q. Regularly, I see the tragic consequences of young people and guns, especially handguns, but often Uzis. Is the Federal Government going to do anything to try to make an effort to slow down the proliferation of guns, which are apparently available to our children on the street for to 0?

The President. I don't favor gun control. We did move, as you know, on clip size for automatic weapons. We've tried to do something about stopping the import of weapons come in here. There was a compromise that we had almost worked out last year relating to -- I want to call it ``instant identification,'' which I strongly favor. It's going to require some money. It's going to require use of computers. But I believe the need to do that transcends the other argument, which is you're violating individuals' rights.

So I think we can make progress on some areas. I just am reluctant to endorse something that would ban private ownership at a time when you see States that have very strong laws suffering from some of the highest levels of criminal activity with guns. So I've been more ``go after the criminal'' than it is the gun owner; and yet we have taken steps in those three areas I've mentioned to you.

Q. Mr. President, for the last few years we've been trying to get in Oakland County some surplus aircraft for the war on drugs and what have you. With the downsizing of some of the defense and with Desert Storm being over, do you see much in the way of Federal property going on the surplus list that perhaps local municipalities could pick up?

The President. There will be more. How much of it will be applicable to the kind of local law enforcement needs you spell out, I just don't know. But there will be more, obviously. What I'm doing on the defense side, I've made substantial cuts in the defense budget. I also should say to you, though, that though we've made dramatic strides towards world peace, and one of the things I take great pride in is that our team, following on my predecessor's record, have been able to do a lot for world peace, saying to the young people, for example, you have far less to worry about now from nuclear war than generations precedent. And that is something big, and that is something major.

And yes, our suggestions for cutting defense are out there being acted on, and defense spending is going down. The problem almost -- and this is off your question, but I want to mention it here -- is almost the other way. Some, recognizing that we've made some substantial progress toward world peace, are saying almost you don't need the muscle in the defense. And my view is we do. We've got to fight for reasonable levels and, I'd say, prudent levels of defense spending. So it won't be as big in the field you ask about as some might hope, but I have a responsibility as Commander in Chief and as President to implement my responsibilities for national security.

We think we've found a good formula, and we're going to stave off reckless cuts into the muscle of our defense. Who knows where the next big challenge will come from? I don't believe it will come from a Soviet Union back together again. The visit we had with Boris Yeltsin, incidentally, was very, very rewarding and substantive in that we reached agreement to eliminate these major ICBM's, you know, the biggest of the missiles, the Soviet side the SS - 18's. Nobody would have dreamed that was possible 4 years ago, and it is tremendous. And yet people go, ``Ho-hum, what have you done lately?'' So we've got to stay strong. I don't think a threat will come from there. I do worry about proliferation. I worry about some of the nuts around the world trying to acquire sophisticated weaponry, missile technology, nuclear technology, and all of that. And to guarantee all this as best we can, the peace, we've got to keep fairly high levels of defense spending. And I'm determined that we do just exactly that.

There's another one that may be controversial, but I am continuing to fight for the ``FREEDOM Support Act,'' which supports, through the international financial institutions, the democracy and change in the Soviet Union. We've spent trillions of dollars, trillions, in defense standing up against the monolithic Communist threat, the aggressive Communist threat led by the Soviets. That's gone now. I think we have a stake at trying to help their democracy, and I think in the final analysis that will be very good for the American worker. That market is enormous. I have a responsibility to fight to get that through. And I think it's like buying an insurance policy for the future.

A long answer. You asked me what time it is, and I told you how to build a watch. But nevertheless.

Q. I'd like to start by saying we're very fortunate to have a President who is pro-law enforcement, a Governor who is pro-law enforcement. And we in the law enforcement community have a tendency to ask what you're going to do for us. I don't want to steal a Democrat saying, but let me ask once: You are having problems with your crime package. What can we do in the law enforcement community? As the sign says, ``We're working together for safe communities.'' What can we do in the law enforcement community to better help you help us in terms of getting that legislation passed as well as other things?

The President. Well, the election can help, because I think it'll be very clear. We'll have big differences in terms of supporting crime legislation.

But I think the thing to do is, for those who say they're for law enforcement in the Congress, come home and talk one way, to try to assure as law enforcement officials that they vote the same way in Washington. Now, the reason I say that is, I was out in California before the primary. I heard two or three Congress people running for Congress -- notice the word ``people'' I used there, Congress people, so I leave out -- finger what gender it was -- campaigning as the great champions of strong law enforcement action, strong legislation. And yet I know, and they knew I knew, that they were voting against our strong crime package.

Now, I can see where you might want to change it. I can see where what the judge said, some people might want to have something in there on it. But you can tell from a voting record whether somebody is pro-law enforcement, backing up the cops, backing up the victims of crime -- there's victims-of-crime legislation -- or whether it's all rhetoric. And so I think you who are experts in the field and are laying your lives on the line for us -- and that's the way I look at law enforcement -- you ought to be darn sure that you pin down those who want to represent you on this all-important question. And let them be honest enough if they have a difference on handguns or something.

But nevertheless, there's a thrust to legislation: Is it pro-law enforcement and tougher on the criminal, or is it the other way around? The Senate, for example, watered down to a fare-thee-well a strong crime bill that we had in the Senate. They passed a better one last year, and then this year they've softened it up. And so I think you, more than most, will be in a position to get the various candidates on the record, and then hopefully, if they're elected, to see that they do what they said they'd do on it.

So, that's about all I know to do.

Q. Mr. President, one last question.

The President. I'm just getting warmed up here. Sir.

Q. Thanks, Mr. President. One thing I wanted to do is to possibly make a very short statement that the recent police-bashing that's going on in the media has been a very difficult thing for us. And I would just like to pass along that I know that with the history in the media recently of brutality and what have you, I know that there's an important sensitivity that we have to have for the community and for the defendant. But yet, I'd like to not throw the baby out with the bath water. I ask that at every opportunity the politicos have, sir, to please stand up for us because the bashing really is making it difficult for our men and women to go out and do a good job day after day.

The President. Let me comment on what the lieutenant says, because he puts his finger on a very important point. When there's excess, when there's brutality, fix it, get it corrected right now -- training, whatever it is. But I agree with you. And in Los Angeles, I made it a point to go talk to the LAPD, to go to the sheriff's headquarters there to make sure that they knew that I was supportive of law enforcement per se. And I do get a sense -- there's a lot of programming of kind of the corrupt law enforcement person, and that has a way of subtly undermining people's confidence in this country.

So I have no hesitancy in speaking out, always, in favor of law enforcement. But you deserve more than that. You deserve to get backed up by the legislation as well. But it's a good warning and a good point you raise. I hope that nobody in our administration is overreacting to scenes of brutality that turn a lot of people off or painting with so broad a brush that the hundreds and thousands of people that are risking their lives for the American people get diminished in their service by something of that nature.

So we are going to continue to push for the public backing of our law enforcement community, the police, the sheriffs, whoever else it is; continue working with the courts by getting people on the bench who share this view that law enforcement is very important in the communities; try to do more emphasis on what we call the Points of Light, and that is putting the spotlight on the many things that police in their communities do to help others. I think of the D.A.R.E. program and the antidrugs as just one facet of your support for community activities, and it's thousands of fold where that takes place. So we've got to continue to support that, support that concept of voluntarism that I think the police in this country epitomize and demonstrate.

So I hear what you say. And I know the Governor -- he and I have talked about this -- he feels strongly about that here in the State of Michigan, and I can tell you I do nationally.

Now, since Brooks is throwing us out -- and I was just getting warmed up.

Q. Maybe 5 more minutes.

The President. Five more minutes. All right. That's always what gets you in trouble. Got some back here? Go ahead, sir.

Q. Good evening. With the most recent events in Los Angeles and with the most recent attention in Congress, is there going to be more of a commitment of Federal dollars and resources to urban areas, such as not only Los Angeles but Detroit, of resources?

The President. That's a good question. And the answer is, I hope so. I went to Los Angeles, went to the community. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservative, men, women, all said that what was needed then -- and let me add one other name, Peter Ueberroth who has taken on the job to bring private-sector jobs to the community in Los Angeles -- all of them, every one of them, including the black mayors organization, said, ``What do we need? We need enterprise zones in these communities with zero capital gains base to bring jobs immediately to the communities.'' That is hung up in a big, long debate now in the Congress.

We were able to get summer job money through, 0 million additional. We were able to get the SBA and the FEMA money replenished so we'll be able to take care of the small business loans and all of that in the various communities. But I am not satisfied. And our whole concept of enterprise zones, of homeownership we think would be of enormous benefit for the cities. And we're going to keep on pressing for this whole package -- those aren't the only elements in it -- that we think will help the cities.

I don't know, I can't make a prediction for you at this point as to what will happen. There's another program, and I would urge you to look at it if you're not familiar with it, called ``Weed and Seed.'' And the concept is weed out the criminal, back up the law enforcement people. And there's good, specific things in the ``Weed and Seed'' proposal that will help back law enforcement. And then the seeding aspect of it has some 20 areas that funding will go to, to help seeding hope and opportunity in the communities.

Now that one is hung up, too, in the Congress. We're not giving up and I hope we can get those proposals through the Congress. We're in a fight sometimes because I do have a responsibility to try to do something about these enormous Federal deficits. And once in a while, some say, ``Hey, you think it's worth 0 million? Let me give you billion.'' And that's where I get onto the side of having to say no.

But I think we can do better. And I think some of these ideas I mentioned have strong support, and that means they will get through, hopefully before the end of July. The bill we passed the other day and was signed will help. But it's not near as much as we should be doing for these cities. I think we still have a good chance.

Q. Mr. President, what precipitated the Rodney King incident was a police chase. And I think that's a question that we'd all like answered today, if there was something we could do -- we're kind of at a quandary on police chases. Our policies and procedures, we definitely look into every one we can have. But however, lawsuits, it seems like is costing the cities, the townships, and villages millions of dollars in lawsuits in police chases. We can't, apparently, seem to get our legislators to make up their minds one way or the other, either tell us to chase or not to chase. But I'd like to know if there would be any Federal legislation at all that could put a possible cap on lawsuits?

The President. The answer is, if I had my way, yes. And I don't have my way yet. But we have legislation before the Congress to cap some of these suits, whether it's malpractice for doctors that are ramming the health care costs right through the roof or whether it's on these frivolous liability claims. And to be very, very candid and to call it as is, we are blocked by the trial lawyers lobby. And they're strong, and they're tough, and they control a handful, and we've got to keep fighting until we get this done. The frivolous lawsuit is running the cost of everything, insurance and everything else, right off the charts. The American people want it done, and we're having difficulty getting it20done.

It's the same fight I had on the balanced budget amendment. It would have disciplined the executive branch, disciplined the legislative branch, and 80 percent of the people want it, and we got almost two-thirds of the vote. The leadership in the House of Representatives went to 12 Members who had sponsored the legislation and said, ``Hey man, we need you. We need you to come on and just change it.'' And so 12 of the sponsors of the legislation, through strong-arm politics, were pulled off it. It's the same kind of pressure we're fighting in the Congress on trying to restrict liability and get it under control.

And this officer is so correct that the American people want this done. And again, it transcends party. This one powerful lobby has it stymied in the United States Congress. And that's one we've just got to get in focus, leave out party, take it to the American people and say, ``Send us people that will at least get something done in terms of capping liability, restricting some of these frivolous liability suits.''

Q. Mr. President, this really is the last question.

The President. All right.

Q. Mr. President, how do we get the criminal to do the time that he's sentenced to? Recently in Oakland County we buried several young women that were a victim of a man who still should have been in prison.

The President. Well, again, I'd have to defer to the Attorney General, to the legal experts. But we have mandatory sentencing in some Federal crimes. And Federal law, I believe, is a little tougher on this. I can get an argument with the judges or the lawyers around here. But I think we have tried to do that through the Federal Sentencing Commission. And again, it is not much help to law enforcement if a person is sentenced to fairly stiff terms and then walks out of there either on a technicality or after serving an abysmally short period of time.

I don't think I've been gender-fair; so can we end with you, ma'am?

Q. I am chapter leader for southeastern Michigan for Parents of Murdered Children. My son was murdered in 1987. And I would like to know what this administration is doing or can do for the survivors of homicide victims?

The President. Well, we've passed one victims-of-crime legislation. We have some new provisions -- I'm looking for Sam Skinner to help me -- provisions in the new crime bill before the Congress for the victims of crime. And it is something that we've at least started moving forward on. The lady is right that we should be doing more. And that's in terms with the whole philosophy, more sympathy for the victims and less for the criminal.

So we've made some legislative headway. Don't pin me down on the details that are on it in the bill that we've got pending right now. But I believe you'll find that it is strongly supportive of the victims of crime. This is something that has been almost a national tragedy because for a long time there was literally very little that could be done or had been done.

The other thing, one of the things, and maybe this isn't directly on your point, but I know a lot of families feel this way, that when we talk about habeas corpus reform so you knock out frivolous appeals, it does bring certain comfort to the family that at least wants to know that justice is being done, that the person that murdered the family member is going to pay the price and not get frivolously appealed and appealed and appealed endlessly. And so part of our habeas corpus reform addresses itself to the victims of crime in that sense.

Well, listen, thank you all very, very much. I don't know who is in charge of the heat here, but I've lost about five pounds, and that wouldn't hurt me, as you can tell. But I just want to, once again, thank you all for taking the time. And I say this, you know, this is a strange political year. It's a strange political year. And I know anything you say is interpreted to be said for political gain. But I feel very, very strongly about what I've said here about backing law enforcement officials, and for me it does transcend politics. And for me, when a police officer -- I keep in my desk the badge of a young police officer from New York as a reminder -- gunned down. I go to the DEA when they honor the officers that are killed in fighting for us, for my family, fighting against narcotics.

So I hope it doesn't sound patronizing in this political year, but we strongly support the law enforcement community in this country. I will continue to fight for strong legislation, and I will continue to take the message out there against the kinds of things in the media that undermine the family or rejoice at those who stand up against law enforcement, something like that. I think I have a moral obligation as President of the United States to take that kind of a message to the American people. And if you want to say ``political,'' fine. But it's something I feel deeply in my heart.

So thank you all very much for what you're doing for your country and for your community. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 5:14 p.m. at the Southfield Civic Center. In his remarks, he referred to Brooks Patterson, attorney and former Oakland County prosecutor.

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