Radio Address to the Nation on Proposed Crime Legislation

February 18, 1984

My fellow Americans:

Shouldn't we have the right as citizens of this great country to walk our streets without being afraid and to go to bed without worrying the next sound might be a burglar or a rapist? Of course we should. But in reality we don't. The sad fact is too many of our friends and loved ones live in fear of crime. And there's no mystery as to why. For too many years, the scales of criminal justice were tilted toward protecting rights of criminals. Those in charge forgot or just plain didn't care about protecting your rights -- the rights of law-abiding citizens.

We came to Washington determined to change that by restoring the proper balance to our criminal justice system and by assisting all of you who, through Neighborhood Watch-type programs, are trying to protect life, property, and security in your communities.

Common sense is beginning to pay off. In 1982 the crime rate dropped by 4.3 percent -- the biggest decline since 1972. But we still face a tremendous challenge, and meeting that challenge is what I want to talk to you about today.

Since drugs are related to an enormous amount of violent crime, drug trafficking and organized crime are among our major targets. For the first time in this nation's history, we've thrown the resources of the FBI into drug enforcement. A new border interdiction program is underway. Task forces aimed at drug gangs cover the Nation, and they've indicted more than 1,300 persons in the last year.

In fact, since our administration came into office, the number of drug-related convictions has increased 33 percent. Since 1981 the number of enforcement agents, prosecutors, and the amount of funding and Federal cooperation with State and local agencies have all greatly increased. Even the military is providing assistance in the fight against drug traffickers. But we still need to do more. We need new laws to stop drug traffickers from harming our people, especially our young people. And we need tougher laws to fight other forms of crime so we can make the lives of all Americans more secure.

This issue should never turn into a prolonged partisan struggle, but it has. The Senate recently passed overwhelmingly our Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The House has done nothing and continues to wait. But wait for what? Bottling up long-overdue reforms that would provide you, the people, greater protection against dangerous criminals is a serious mistake you should not tolerate.

Let me give you some examples of what's at stake here. One of our bill's reforms would create tougher laws permitting Federal prosecutors to seize the profits and assets of organized crime and drug traffickers. This would be a severe blow to the crime czars. Why should any right-minded person oppose it?

Another reform, involving the so-called exclusionary rule, would allow evidence obtained reasonably and in good faith to be used in a criminal trial. How many times have we seen law enforcement officers handcuffed by the maze of technicalities that make collection and presentation of evidence so difficult?

Our bill also makes sentencing more uniform and certain. There's nothing complicated about this. The sentence imposed should be the sentence served, with no parole. Too many sentences today are inadequate and the time served too short.

Another important reform concerns bail. It's hard to imagine the present system being any worse. Except in capital cases, Federal courts cannot consider the danger a defendant may pose to others if released. The judge can only consider whether it's likely the defendant will appear for trial if granted bail. Recently, a man charged with armed robbery and suspected of four others was given a low bond and quickly released. Four days later he and a companion robbed a bank, and in the course of the robbery a policeman was shot. This kind of outrage happens again and again, and it must be stopped. So, we want to permit judges to deny bail and lock up defendants who the government has shown pose a grave danger to their communities.

Our bill would also cut back on the misuse of insanity as a defense, strengthen child pornography laws, and provide greater financial assistance to State and local law enforcement programs. Independently of our crime package, we're mounting a major effort to combat crimes such as sexual assault and family violence. We're also working hard to improve the justice system treatment of our fellow citizens who were the innocent victims of crime.

These reforms make good sense, and there's no excuse for not passing them. The liberal approach of coddling criminals didn't work and never will. Nothing in our Constitution gives dangerous criminals a right to prey on innocent, law-abiding people. I would hope the Members of the House could remember this and bring up our bill for consideration without further delay. This is the most comprehensive anti-crime legislation in more than a decade. In the interest of true justice and in recognition of this past week, National Crime Prevention Week, it deserves full debate and a vote. Perhaps you might inquire from your Representative if he or she is ready to act, and if not, why not.

Till next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.