THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY ATTORNEY GENERAL JANET RENO, DRUG CONTROL DIRECTOR LEE BROWN, ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN SCHMIDT AND CHIEF JOE BRANN ON FUNDING POLICE OFFICERS The Briefing Room
11:00 A.M. EST
ATTORNEY GENERAL: This morning President Clinton spoke to the nation about the continuing plague of crime and drugs and violence, and the terrible impact it is having on our families and our children. Every day in the newspaper we see another story, watch television, see a child killed or a child killing, another life cut too short. The public has seen too much of this, and they have demanded that we take dramatic action to do something about it.
President Clinton heard America's call for help. Just over a year ago he challenged Congress to break the partisan gridlock and pass the crime bill -- a crime bill to put 100,000 new police officers on the streets of this nation, to make three strikes and you're out the law, to give law enforcement a fighting chance by banning assault weapons, and to fund effective prevention programs that police supported throughout this country. Thanks to the President's strong leadership and the support of a bipartisan majority of Congress, these proposals are now the law of the land.
Today the administration is moving ahead full-speed to make the promise of the 1994 Crime Act a reality. Our COPS program has awarded grants to over 7,500 communities throughout America. Small towns, large cities have been given authority to hire more than 17,000 police officers. Nineteen types of assault weapons have been banned from the gun stores of America. And our children, our most important resource, have schools, recreational centers, and mentors to go to instead of street corners and allies and gang leaders. And all of this is being done in a simple, nonpartisan, nonbureaucratic fashion.
Unfortunately, some members of Congress want to go back and undo the progress of the 1994 Crime Act. To those who advocate that course I have one thing to say: Congress should not move backward, must not move backward in the fight to control crime in this country. With so much progress at stake, it would be wrong to renege on the promise of the 1994 Crime Act. To law enforcement professionals, to state and local officials and ordinary citizens who want to be safer in their homes, in their schools and on the streets, we must not turn the clock back on crime and revert to the old ways of political rhetoric, rather than concrete action.
The public should know that several of the crime bills currently being considered by Congress seek to undo the bipartisan successes of the Crime Act. They will scrap the President's 100,000 cops initiative and replace it with a plan that won't guarantee even one new cop on the beat. They'll abolish proven prevention programs that are supported by police across the country. And they'll make prison funds so restrictive that very few states will be able to build new prisons in the foreseeable future.
This is not what America wants, or needs. There is still much to be done to make America's communities safe. Now is the time to put new crime-fighting ideas on the table; ideas that build on the success of the 1994 Act. In these areas, such as speeding up death penalty appeals and ensuring victims' rights, we can work together. But as the President told the country today, we owe it to the American people to move forward, not backward, and build upon the successes of the 1994 Crime Act. And we must not, and we will not, turn back.
I'd now like to ask John Schmidt, the Associate Attorney General who has been responsible for the implementation of the Crime Act in the Justice Department, to say a few words.
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL SCHMIDT: The one point I would like to emphasize is the really incredible level of demand from communities all over the country for funding under the community policing program. Under the two initial programs we set up, COPS AHEAD, which is for communities of 50,000 and over; COPS FAST for communities of 50,000 and under, we have in hand, in the office now, applications for about 40,000 new officers. That's two programs, both of which had tight deadlines, both of which were set up on a basis where there would be no waivers of any of the program requirements. That is really an incredible figure.
As the Attorney General indicated, we have been able to fund about 7,500 communities -- about half of all the communities in this country. However, in most cases, we've not been able to give them all that they asked for. We've been able to fund about 17,000 officers. That is further, faster than I think anyone would have thought we would have ever been able to come. But we still have a long way to go. Everyplace that I go and everyone we hear from around the country in communities is telling us they want this program to continue, they want us to go forward until we reach the goal of 100,000 new officers around the country.
To say just a word about how we are going to go forward from this point on, I want to ask Chief Joe Brann, who is now the Director of the COPS program, to say a couple of words.
CHIEF BRANN: Thank you, John.
As John indicated, the COPS program is working; it's working very effectively across the country. This is not just about hiring police officers, however. There's a lot of flexibility built into the COPS program, the kinds of funding mechanisms that we're addressing here.
Specifically, we're going to be, shortly, dealing with another round of grant applications that deal with, or address our minority or MORE program which relates to making officer redeployment effective. The purpose behind this is to, in fact, address equipment needs, technology needs, overtime needs, civilianization kinds of opportunities that exist in law enforcement organizations to help them take existing police officers who are there currently in these organizations and move them out onto the street where they'll be more effective.
I think another critical aspect of this is -- and that should not be ignored at all -- is that this advances community policing. This is what the public wants. This is what the law enforcement community knows and recognizes as an effective crime- fighting strategy. It has been proven to be effective. We know that. We're trying to advance this nationally.
There's also flexibility here in dealing with the needs of local agencies to come up with the local match requirement. We have waiver processes in place. We were not able to under the COPS FAST and COPS AHEAD programs, we were not able to provide waivers for those particular programs. It was announced in advance because these were expedited hiring processes. We would not be providing waivers there, but we have under other phases. We will be looking at that in the future. We intend to remain flexible on this and work with the local agencies.
I think most importantly, though, the message that I would want to send is this: I'm a 26-year cop. I've worked the streets. I've been a police chief. And for those of us in the law enforcement community, we are tired of seeing politicians in Washington playing politics with public safety. It's time to bring this to a halt. This crime bill is working. It's working very effectively. It's got broad support across the country, and we need to maintain it.
Q Just for the record, Attorney General, could you please restate why the principle of giving that money directly to communities, to cities, is such a bad idea?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: We think the money should be given directly to police departments, to sheriff's offices, to state highway patrols across the nation because they are the police agency that is most responsible. I mean, they are the agency, the only agency responsible for policing in their jurisdiction. And we think the money should go to funding police officers, but to providing the additional flexibility for grants for automation that will free police officers' time to come to the streets for community policing, that will provide support for overtime for a particular project. All that flexibility is in it. But it is designed primarily to put community police officers on the streets. It's monies that go directly to the police agency. It's working now.
Both mayors and police chiefs have told me that it is one of the most effective federal programs they have seen. Why break it if it's working well?
Q But aren't you saying you don't trust local officials to use this money wisely?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: No, what we're saying is that we trust police departments --
Q by the block grant program?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: The block grant program you don't know what it's going to do. And what we're trying to do is to say the major effort -- there are other efforts such as with prevention. There are various programs that go both to communities and to counties and in some instances to states. And they can be designed according to the differing needs of prevention. Everyone agrees that there is a need for community police officers. Judged by the grant applications that we have received, the overwhelming demands that I'm getting from mayors and chiefs of police, this gets the money not to the state, not to the county, not to the city, but to the police departments. It cuts out administrative expenses in between. It gives police departments the flexibility to design programs for their community.
I have seen so many different forms of community policing adjusted because police departments had the flexibility to design the program according to their needs. It has flexibility in their for overtime, for equipment, for automation. This is the type of program that goes directly to the source of the -- to the agency responsible for this function. And I think it can work.
Q General Reno, would the President also veto any attempt to repeal the assault weapons ban?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Yes.
Q Could we ask, in connection with that, you laid out the provisions of the original crime bill. He said he will veto on 100,000 policeman, police officers, assault weapons; what about three strikes you're out and preventive programs -- where does he draw the line?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I haven't heard anything about anybody attempting to repeal three strikes you're out, but the President feels very strongly about that. And he feels equally as strongly about the prevention programs. We will work with all concerned to make sure that the prevention programs spelled out in the bill are carried forward.
Q Attorney General, could I ask a question, please, on abortion and whether or not the Cabinet is solidly behind Mr. Foster still given the new revelations, if you will, that come out every day?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I have not been involved in that process, but from what I have seen, his credentials are very impressive and I support the President.
Q I should know the answer, but over what time period would the 100,000 police be -- with the timetable for --
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I'll ask Joe to give you the precise time schedule on it.
CHIEF BRANN: The bill itself provides it will be done over six years. I would say that we're definitely ahead of schedule, by the fact that we've, in a very short period of time, in four to four and half months, have provided the funding for approximately 17,000 officers.
Q Attorney General Reno, could I follow along Jerry's question about the confirmation of the new surgeon general? Could you tell us what the status of the FBI background check on him is right now? Has it been finished?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: No, I can't.
Q General Reno, just another question on another subject, affirmative action. Has the administration come up with its final position on where it stands on affirmative action and attempts to roll some of that back?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I think what we need to do is to continue to focus on each case, look at the case, and do everything possible to end discrimination and the vestiges of discrimination in this country, while at the same time, looking at the broader picture and making sure that we apply the law as it exists in this country.
Q Well, would the administration be open to changing that law?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I think it's important, again -- I've heard so much discussion about changing the law. The basic thrust of affirmative action is to end discrimination. I don't think any American supports discrimination, and I think that's what we're about. And I don't think there's any intent on the part of this administration to change that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:15 A.M. EST