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Public Papers - 1992 - October

Remarks to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Detroit, Michigan


Thank you, Chief Vaughn, and all of you. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. I'm just delighted to be here. Thank you, Chief Vaughn, the president, for that kind introduction. And may I salute Steve Harris, who I understand is the incoming leader of this most distinguished group.

I don't know where you get that enthusiasm. I fell asleep in the 9th inning, and I'm sure some of you stayed up until the 11th. [Laughter] But nevertheless, may I salute the distinguished members of the board. And a special welcome to the chiefs of police from around the world. You'll have to excuse me if I'm not talking today about the importance of international cooperation. But don't think I've lost it. I understand. And I hear it from the domestic chiefs, from the local chiefs, how important cooperation is with the international component represented here today. Whether it's in antinarcotics, or whether it's in antiterrorism, we are very, very grateful to those law enforcement officers from overseas who are here today and to your colleagues who may not have made it to this wonderful convention.

I would simply say to you that you're choosing, or you have chosen, a very interesting time to visit our great country. The weather's turning colder, and if you turn on the TV you can't help but notice that there's an election going on in just -- and Barbara and I were talking about this a few minutes ago -- just 9 days. In fact, some of the U.S. police chiefs here may ask if they can go back with you to your country until all this hectic yelling and shouting is over with.

But we are getting down to the home stretch, and so let me talk this morning about Government's first and foremost domestic responsibility, function, and that is to protect every citizen at home and on the street. Let me start with a story that most of the domestic chiefs have heard about, probably the kind of story you hear about every day but one that just sickened Barbara and me when we saw it on the news. I believe it was almost a month ago. In broad daylight, in a neighborhood near Washington, DC, a woman was forced from her car at a stop sign by two men, who then drove off. But the woman got tangled in her seatbelt outside the car. Or maybe she hung on. What mother wouldn't? You see, her baby was locked inside. And that woman was dragged almost 2 miles before the thieves crushed her to death against a fence. And then they tossed her little baby out by the roadside, like some kind of a piece of trash. And I know that on this special Sunday in this special audience I am preaching to the choir, but this sort of thing must provoke outrage. People who act like animals have no place in decent society, and they should go to jail and stay in jail. I strongly support you and your effort to do just that.

I think when the history of this century is written, it will be clearly seen that America got too soft on crime in the sixties, and for 20 years you and your brothers and sisters in law enforcement paid for it. But we fought back, and for the first time in decades, the overall crime index is actually down. And with your help, your leadership, we've slowed the rate of violent crime the past 12 years. We are turning the tide on drugs. I take heart from the fact that there's 60 percent -- use of cocaine by teenagers. But as you can tell by comparing our crime statistics with other nations, we still have a way to go, a long way to go. And that's what I really want to talk to you about today.

There are so many issues in this Presidential campaign where the voters have a clear choice. And crime is one of the most important. And I do have big differences with Governor Clinton on crime and law enforcement. I would only ask a simple, objective look at the record. Records reveal it. Here are some of the facts. Under Governor Clinton, Arkansas' violent crime rate went up about 60 percent in the eighties: more than twice the national average. They had the Nation's single-biggest increase in serious crime during the decade. In '83, there were about 300 violent crimes for every 100,000 people in Arkansas. Last year, there were almost 600 violent crimes. It has doubled on the Governor's watch. The average inmate there served less than one-fifth of his sentence last year. But the Federal inmate, as I'm sure most know here, an inmate for which I have responsibility, he served 85 percent of his time.

You can't obviously, and I don't mean to leave that impression, blame the dedicated law enforcement officers from that State. Because you've got to look behind that, at the statistics. Arkansas ranks near the bottom for every important per capita crime dollar that it spends, 46th; for police officers, 49th. Spending on judicial and legal systems, Arkansas ranks 50th. Dead last in the country. And so, no wonder crime goes ballistic there during the eighties. You're supposed to handcuff criminals, not tie the hands of the police.

It's obvious and I firmly believe -- and I'll get to the positive aspects of this in a minute -- that that crime record, that Clinton record, is wrong for Arkansas, and clearly it would be wrong for America. If you don't believe me, ask the Fraternal Order of Police in Little Rock. They know the Clinton record better than anyone, and they're joining hands with their national organization to endorse me for President of the United States. I think they did take the time to look at the overall record, the good news that you don't hear out there on the network news every night.

Let me just tick off a few of our priorities. Start with money. Since I took office, we've increased the crime budget by almost 50 percent. We've hired more than 1,200 new Federal prosecutors since 1989, assigned 300 FBI agents to help you get the gang members off the streets, and proposed a program to double Federal spending for prison space in the 1990's. We're working to stop the abuse of our appeals process, to enforce the death penalty, and to let your cops use evidence seized in good faith. Since 1989, we've taken more than 0 million from criminals and used it to help the victims of crime. We've also targeted the violent repeat offender, putting over 3,000 of those most dangerous fugitives behind bars in just a couple of months last spring. Finally, we're helping to take back 20 worst inner-city neighborhoods, and again I salute the police chiefs and the law enforcement officers for this, take it back with our acclaimed ``Weed and Seed'' program. Weed out the criminals and the drugs, and then seed the neighborhood with education and training and hopefully, if we can ever get enterprise zones enacted into law, with jobs in the private sector.

Now, listen to Bernie Edwards, a 70-year-old resident of a tough neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas, Tarrant County. He saw ``Weed and Seed'' help to keep the young kids in his neighborhood off drugs and out of gangs. And he says, ``For the first time in years I can sit on my porch. It sure feels good.'' There's example like example all across the country. You know them far better than I do.

We've fought for these initiatives, though, not just tough talk, and we're taking action. But our action would be stronger if it were part of a national crime strategy supported by Congress. That's why, 1,228 days ago, on June 15, 1989 -- the same day Mikhail Gorbachev first hinted that the Berlin Wall might someday come down -- I sent a comprehensive crime bill to Capitol Hill, up to the Congress. I extended my hand in partnership to Congress, and I asked for help fighting crime on a national level.

Since I first sent that bill to the Hill in 1989, 60,000 Americans have been murdered. There have been 260,000 rapes, 1.6 million robberies, and 2.6 million assaults. And 69,000 of those violent crimes took place, regrettably, right here in Detroit. Think about it. Enough Americans to fill Detroit's Cobo Hall four times over were brutalized by assault, rape or murder while that bill languished on Capitol Hill. No wonder Americans stare at every news, every night, shake their heads, and ask, ``Why doesn't somebody do something about this incredible mess? People are dying in the streets.''

Well, as frustrating as this crime bill has been for me, it is still my job as President to get results. So we've fought and won a couple of big battles in the past few weeks. And today I'm proud to announce that right after this speech, I'm going to sit down here at Cobo Hall and sign two of the crime initiatives that I've fought for, two tough new Federal laws.

The first one severely punishes carjackers. And we told the Congress that I wanted to make armed carjacking a Federal offense with harsh penalties. Thugs who take cars at gunpoint should sit in a cell so long that when they get out they're going to be too darn old to drive.

And the second one deals with parents, mostly fathers, who refuse to make child-support payments. They're called the deadbeat dads. And right now, a single mother in Detroit can struggle to keep the kids fed on a small salary while their father's on a lark in Chicago. He could be way behind in child support, but no one can touch him across State lines. Well, that's a disgrace, and now the long arm of the law can reach over the border and tell that dad to pay up or go up the river.

Why did these two ideas become law? Because national attention created national outrage that brought pressure on Congress to act. It's a formula I want to use again and again in the next 4 years. You see, there are at least six other initiatives that Congress didn't pass, that I care a great deal about and that I think would benefit your work. So next year, with a new Congress -- and there's going to be a new one. You might ask why, and I would say to some of the foreign officials here you have been spared the sight of a Congress controlled by one group for 38 years that can't even run a two-bit bank or a two-bit post office. And so there's going to be a lot of new Members. And those Members, regardless of what party, are going to do what the people want. They'll be listening to the same voters I do. And so, then we're going to go after them, and we're going to be given a new Congress. And with 150 new Members next session, maybe up to that many in the House, we're going to pass those six items into law, too.

And here they are: Number one, I want to strengthen the laws dealing with sexual and domestic violence. It's bad enough when a woman is brutally attacked in the first place. Then she takes the stand for testimony and gets attacked by some clever lawyers. I say that's two attacks too many. So we're going to go after tightening up these laws.

Two, I want repeat armed offenders behind bars until trial. Today, even a repeat rapist can get arrested and be out on bond hours later. I say detain him until the trial, let the prosecution use past behavior against him. Right now, certain little details often can't even be mentioned in court, like the fact that everyone within a country mile knows the guy's done this before. And that's wrong. Let him face what he's done and pay for it.

We've got to -- on the second major point here -- we've got to crush gang violence. I want the gangs to be treated like the criminal enterprises that they are, so we can go after the leaders with Federal medicine that they deserve. I want to toughen penalties for using juveniles in crimes. I've talked to many chiefs about this, and they tell me that gangs send out these under-age kids, send them out to do the dirty work of the leaders, and because they're minors who will get off easy if they're caught. That's disgraceful. I remember going out to South Central in L.A. and hearing about two that were apprehended by the law enforcement community. I think they were 13 or 14. They had been assigned targets to firebomb during the outbreaks -- two little kids. It's a heartbreak. It's disgraceful. We've got to go after the big guys, make the big boys pay, those that would use little kids in this way.

And three, protection for the elderly. It's absurd that the folks who have contributed to society all their lives have to live in terror just because some young punks see them as an easy target. I want to beef up the laws so instead of stalking the streets and mugging grandmothers, they're down at the precinct, mugging for the police camera.

Four, and I've heard from many of you on this one, and we promise you we're going to keep on trying: habeas corpus reform. Habeas corpus? Yes, habeas corpus should protect the innocent, but it's turned into a perversion of the law. Some petitions can drag on for more than a decade, more than 10 years. And criminal lawyers are abusing the law to postpone justice, and it's time we put a stop to it. Let them have one habeas petition and be done with it.

Five -- and I know this one's controversial, but I'll tell you exactly how strongly I feel about it -- and I'm talking about a Federal death penalty. I think certain acts of violence deserve the ultimate penalty. The sentence should be carried out fairly, but swiftly. Assassinations, murder for hire, terrorism, random drive-by shootings, gang massacres, and certainly and especially the killing of a police officer. All must pay with the death sentence. And there is another collateral point here, and that has to do with Justices. I notice that Governor Clinton is here today with Mario Cuomo. But Governor Clinton has mentioned Cuomo for the Supreme Court. And it is my conviction to get this kind of tough crime legislation through, that we must not go back to appointing judges to the Court who oppose tough anticrime measures, who oppose the death penalty for these most heinous of crimes.

And the sixth one is firearms. This one's short and sweet. I want much tougher penalties for the criminal use of firearms.

So there's a lot of work to be done. But America's worth it. For every hardened criminal you face down, there are countless thousands of good and decent Americans out there with strong values and big hearts. And you don't hear much from them. But I happen to know on good authority that they certainly appreciate you, and I know because so many people tell me this. So in conclusion, let me just pass it on to you: America stands behind you. You should never understand some of these crazy liberal appeals as an attack on our law enforcement officers. I am with you 100 percent, bringing to bear the full weight of the Federal Government. And on behalf of all those unheard but grateful Americans, I really do thank you. I thank your families. I know sometimes it must be a real strain when your chief or your officer goes out there and you're not going to know how he's going to be treated by these thug elements out on the street. So we can identify with that. I really came here to say thank you to every single one of you for putting your lives on the line for us every single day.

Now you pass it on, that support, and go back and tell your brave men and women that we appreciate you, and we need you all. You've done so much already. But let's face it, there is much more to be done. And to do it, I'd be remiss if I saw this many voters out here if I didn't say to you I need your support, and I ask for your vote on November 3d, because I want to be in Washington for 4 more years.

Thank you. And may God bless our great country on this beautiful fall day. May God bless the United States. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:20 a.m. at the Cobo Arena. In his remarks, he referred to C. Roland Vaughn, president of the association and chief of police, Conyers, GA.

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