Public Papers

Remarks at a White House Briefing for Law Enforcement Officials on Crime Legislation


I understand you've been here for a while, but I'm the last event, you'll be happy to know. [Laughter]

I first want to single out the two gentlemen, and I use the term advisedly, sitting behind me: our Attorney General, who has done such a superb job in standing up for the victims of crime and against the criminals, and then Governor Bob Martinez, who has just taken over as our czar. Why in America we call people czars, I don't know. [Laughter] But nevertheless, if there is one that should be termed that, it is he, because he has a fantastically important portfolio. He has hit the ground running, not just domestically but in working with our foreign friends whose cooperation is absolutely essential if we are going to make your work and the work of those you support any easier. By that, I am talking about law enforcement.

So, I want to thank you all for coming. I promise to be brief. I want to single out not just the law enforcement people themselves, but those who represent in one way or another the victims of crime. We had a little ceremony a while back to salute them, to honor them, and all three of us here feel compassionately and strongly about that question. And we must never forget to honor them and to facilitate the caring that they deserve from the Government and from every other quarter.

I hoped that I might have had a chance to see all of you, knowing of your commitment, a little sooner than now. I had hoped that the Congress would have taken up our crime bill before now and that we could have gathered there for a signing ceremony. It may well happen; it must happen. It's right for this country that it happen. And at least the Senate has consented to begin work this week on this issue of vital importance to all Americans.

The people simply don't understand this. We sent a crime bill up 2 years ago, and the American people say: What in the world is going on? What is taking so long? And I know I run the risk of ``bashing'' the Congress. But that is not what this is about. It is trying to encourage this lethargic system to do that which the people want, do that what I was elected to try to do.

So, we'll keep on pushing, but your help in this is vitally important. Those of you here today represent a promising development in the past 2 years. More than ever, we've seen, I think, a new sense of cooperation among Federal, State and local law enforcement officials. And the victim groups -- again, strong cooperation, the neighborhood organizations that are essential to this fight, strong cooperation -- all are saying that the time for reform is now.

This coalition is the front line in our war on crime. Frankly, it is tired of felons going free on technicalities in sentences that seem tough but are not carried out because the defendant is clogging our court system with appeal after appeal after appeal.

As part of this unique coalition, you know the kinds of changes in the law you need from Congress to really make a difference in this fight. That's what this is all about -- making a difference. You know that our bill, with its habeas corpus reform, its exclusionary rule reform, revised death penalty procedures, will help you. And in a broader sense, it'll help the entire criminal justice system. With its provisions regarding racial bias, it will ensure fair jury deliberations and fair sentencing.

You know that the so-called racial justice act in the Biden bill will in effect invalidate, regardless of the cause of the sentence, virtually all State death penalty laws and those death penalty sentences that have not yet been implemented. You know that the exclusionary rule provisions in the Biden bill at best codify existing law, and that the assault weapon provisions in the bill, by identifying particular weapons, can certainly be easily circumvented.

What is clear is that the Biden bill will make our jobs harder. We can have real criminal law reform without hollow gestures. And I know you share my view that we need real change, substantive change, not some watered down bill that's passed just before we move into an election year -- a watered down bill that really gives the appearance of doing something, that doesn't have the effect of getting the job done. The Congress needs to hear from you.

I used to wonder before I got into this job how much appeals to Congress really meant; whether individuals that are really concerned can effect progressive, constructive change. I'm absolutely convinced that you can. So, they need to hear from you. They need to learn the importance of increasing the accountability and the certainty of punishment in our criminal system.

That's why you're so important to this debate. You're out there, working for all of you -- many on the streets and the highways, many working with officers that are. And you know how things really are, and I think you know what really needs to be done. So, I wanted to thank you for coming over. I wanted to thank you for your commitment. I expect there are times -- because when you're working as hard as you do -- that you wonder if anybody cares.

I know we do. I know we care a lot. But I think much more important than that is, I really believe the American people care. It's areas, some that are hurt the most by poverty and despair, that will be helped the most by this kind of legislation. So, we care about you. We're grateful to you. And thank you all very, very much for what you're doing. And now, P.S., please work even harder if that's possible. Thank you all very much.

Thank you all very, very much for coming and for the work you're doing.

Note: The President spoke at 4:04 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh; Bob Martinez, Director of National Drug Control Policy; and Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.