THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT NATIONAL GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE
The East Room
10:03 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: I want to thank you all again for coming. Since we're running a bit late I want to be brief and get on to hearing from Governor Campbell and Governor Dean. The primary thing that I was hoping we could talk about in this morning's session is the crime bill.
I wanted to emphasize that I am very aware that this is an issue that historically has been dealt with primarily at the local and state level; one that I spent an enormous amount of time on as Governor and as Attorney General.
There are things that I think should be and, indeed, almost have to be done at the national level. We passed the Brady Bill at the end of the last session of Congress, which I think was a very important thing. And many of you were helpful in that regard, and I appreciate that. We have a number of grants to cities and communities to help with law enforcement, and we had enormous application -- actually, a terrific surplus of applications for the Attorney General's discretionary funds on community policing.
This summer -- Eli Segal is here; we're going to -- our Summer of Service program as part of the National Service this summer will be called the Summer of Safety. And we hope thousands of our young people will be out there working with law enforcement people all across the country.
I really appreciate a lot of the things that all of you have done in this regard. Let me just say that the crime bill, itself, has a number of provisions that I think are quite important and some with which you may or may not agree. Two things that I feel very strongly about are the community policing provisions and the three strikes and you're out provision. I'd like to say something about each of them.
One, we know that there are -- there's been a dramatic reversal in the ratio of police officers to crime in the last 35 years. Thirty-five years ago there were three police officers for every serious crime reported; today there are three crimes for every police officer, particularly in the high crime areas of the country. We have ample evidence that community policing actually works to reduce crime by having people on the block who are well-trained and know the people who live there.
Dr. Lee Brown, our Director of Drug Policy, instituted community policing programs in major cities all across this country and can speak to that. The mayors were here last week. They were exceedingly enthusiastic about that provision and we're looking forward to working with them and with you about it.
The second thing I'd like to say about stiffening the penalties is I know many of you have included versions of the three strikes and you're out in your own legislative programs. I believe
Washington State even had a referendum on the issue. I would just like to urge that we be both tough and smart on this issue. We know that a small number of people commit a significant number of the truly violent crimes and are highly likely to be repeat offenders. If, therefore, this law is drawn properly, it will affect a small percentage of the prison population at the federal level and a somewhat larger percentage at the state level. But you actually will be keeping people in prison who will be overwhelmingly likely to commit a serious violent crime if they get out.
I think it is important not to make these provisions too overbroad to undermine the flexibility that people at the state and at the local level need to run their criminal justice systems and, at the same time, to keep people off the street who are involved in crimes like the terrible tragedy involving Polly Klaas.
So I want to invite you not only to do whatever you were doing at the state level, but to be involved with us here as we work through this crime bill to make sure that it is well-drawn, welldrafted and achieves the objectives it is designed to achieve.
The third thing I'd like to say is there are a number of other things in the crime bill which I think are worthy of your attention. There's the provision which bans possession of handguns by minors except in limited circumstances, which many of you have already done at the state level. There is the ban on several assault weapons. There are funds for alternative incarceration, like boot camps, and for drug treatment. And, of course, there are significant funds -- which I heard you all discussing yesterday in the committee chaired by Governor Wilson -- about jails and federal funds for jails. And I would urge you to -- I heard the discussion on television yesterday. I think you need to have a committee that works with us on it to make sure that it makes sense to you.
Many times I think things come up in the context of crime here in Washington which sound good here, but which may or may not make sense out there on the front lines of the fight against crime. So I want to invite you all to be a part of that.
Just one other thing I'd like to say: In addition to the focus on the crime bill this morning, I'm obviously open to any questions or comments you want to have about the other areas of our partnership -- on welfare reform, health care reform, what we're going to do on the budget which will be a very tough budget, difficult for us, difficult for you -- and Mr. Panetta is here. We have tried to be good partners. We've granted five comprehensive health care waivers, 90 smaller waivers in the health care area, seven welfare reform waivers already. We have tried to make good on our commitment to push through a new partnership with the states. And I think that you will find that we'll continue to do that and we're eager to do it.
But the first major thing that will happen in this legislative session is, in closing, the crime bill. After we pass the education bills -- I think that Secretary Riley is in pretty good shape with Goals 2000 and the school-to-work transition. But then the next thing that will come up is the crime bill. Then we'll go to the other measures I mentioned. And I really look forward to working with you on them.
I ask you for your help. I asked the mayors and I will ask you to put together a bipartisan committee to come up here to work with us, to be willing to lobby with us, and to help us pass a bill that is tough and smart. Thank you.
END10:10 A.M. EST