THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT BULLETPROOF VEST BILL SIGNING
THE PRESIDENT: Captain, thank you very much for your remarks and even more for your service. I think it's fair to say that everyone in America followed the harrowing trail that you were part of just a few months ago and grieved the loss of those two troopers and the others who were killed. And we thank you for your presence here.
Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for all the work you've done over the last five and a half years. And thank you, Attorney General Reno, for doing a superb job of one of the things I asked you to do when we first talked about your becoming Attorney General, and that is being a genuine advocate for local law enforcement officials throughout this country.
I thank all the members of Congress who are here and the extraordinary bipartisan support for actually two pieces of legislation that I will sign today: the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act, and the Care for Police Survivors Act.
All the members of Congress have been introduced, but I think I should note, because not all the sponsors are here, that the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Act was cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Campbell and Leahy, and in the House by Representatives Visclosky and LoBiondo. The Care for Police Survivors Act was cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Hatch and Biden, and in the House by Congressman Schumer and Congressman McCollum. I thank them and all the others who are here.
This is a time of progress and prosperity for our country. We're grateful to have the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years and about to have our first balanced budget in 29 years. And we just learned that crime dropped in 1997, as the Vice President said, for a virtually unprecedented sixth year in a row. Murders have declined more than 25 percent; overall crime by more than 15 percent.
In many ways our country is seeing a return to personal responsibility -- the welfare rolls are the smallest percentage of our population in 29 years -- and to respect for the law -- the crime rate last year dropped to a 25-year low. That makes a real difference in the lives of Americans. Our neighborhoods are safer, our families are more secure. Americans actually feel more free, and they are.
There has been a lot of debate in the country about the reasons for the drop in the crime rate. Of course, a better economy helps, and so do the neighborhood watch groups and all the efforts being made in communities across the country to keep kids away from crime, from school uniforms and curfews to after-school programs and tough truancy enforcement. But one thing is absolutely clear: a huge factor in the declining crime rate has been more police and better policing.
Across our country these men and women in uniform whom we honor here today are putting their lives on the line by joining their communities, getting out of the squad cars, protecting people. And America owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude.
When we passed the crime bill in 1994 we said, in six years we would put 100,000 police on the street. I'm pleased to report that already we've helped to fund 76,000 of those 100,000. We're ahead of schedule and under budget. And I'm very proud of that because it makes all the members of the Congress who have supported this partners in your fight against crime.
Just yesterday, for example, local officials and federal agents together swept into one of the most troubled areas in Philadelphia as a part of Operation Sunrise. Working with local residents, they're targeting crimes and drugs, even graffiti. I applaud their efforts and hope they'll be replicated.
A crucial part of our five and a half year effort to make the federal government a partner with you for a safer America has been making sure that police officers have the tools to do the job. There are few tools more important than the body armor or bulletproof vests we see behind us.
Over the past decade, body armor has saved the lives of more than 2,000 officers. The FBI estimates that the risk of a gun-related fatality is 14 times higher for an officer -- let me say that again -- 14 times higher for an officer who does not wear a vest than for one who does.
The Vice President told you about Officer Margiotta and his vest. He's actually here today, and I'd like to ask him to stand, along with any other officer here who has ever been shot wearing a bulletproof vest. Will the others stand, please? (Applause.)
The line of fire will always be a dangerous place. People can get hit in the leg in the wrong way and bleed to death. It will always be dangerous. But today we are making it less dangerous for those who are brave enough to walk that line. Every day all of you in uniform protect us; it's good to know that every once in a while there's something those of us on this end of the line can do to help to protect you.
So I'm proud to sign the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act. Twenty-five percent of the state and local law enforcement officers don't have this body armor to protect their lives. This legislation will help police departments provide it to them. It is a critical investment in the safety of those who have to be in harm's way.
Let me also say that as we do everything in our power to make police work a little less dangerous, we have to recognize that every year there are all too many officers who do make the ultimate sacrifice for safe streets and children's futures. That is why I am also proud to be signing here the Care for Police Survivors Act, which supports counseling for families who have lost a loved one in the line of duty.
Last fall I also proposed to provide -- help provide college scholarships for the children of slain officers. And again, I say, that I hope the Congress will pass that. That's an important investment and a small enough one to make in the children of those who give their lives to protect our children.
Community police are making children safer in our neighborhoods, and let me just say, once again recent events have reminded us of that in our schools. Just yesterday, I'm sure we all saw the story of a student who shot two people in a Richmond, Virginia, high school. They're expected to make a full recovery, and we thank God for that. And fortunately, the assailant was chased down several blocks and apprehended by Officer Ron Brown. Officer Brown was assigned to the school because of the COPS program -- our community policing program helped put him there. The COPS program is a good start and I'm proud that he was a part of it, especially yesterday. Officer Brown is here today and I'd like to ask him to stand. Thank you very much for your service, sir. (Applause.)
Today, I am asking Attorney General Reno and Secretary of Education Riley to report back to me before the start of the school year on ways that we can help to provide more police in our schools, just as we have provided more police for our communities. Congressman Jim Maloney has proposed legislation to do that and I urge Congress to pass his bill as a back-to-school special for America's children.
America is grateful for the hard work that all of you in uniform and all of those whom you represent throughout this country to do. Every day, as you make our lives safer and our people more free and our children's future brighter, we know that you're there, and we're grateful. We understand, too, that you can't always do it alone. All of us as parents and leaders must teach our children right from wrong and turn them away from violence. But by working together and giving you the tools to do your job, we will make this a better and a safer nation in the 21st century.
Thank you, and God bless you all. Thank you. (Applause.)
I would like to ask all the members of Congress to come up here for the bill signing. Officer Brown, why don't you come on up, and why don't we ask these police officers come up with us today.
(The bill is signed.)
END 3:47 P.M. EDT