Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the Community in Manchester, New Hampshire

February 03, 1996

Thank you very much. Hello. Thank you very much, Sergeant Robidas, for your introduction and for your fine work. Thank you, Nancy Tessier, for your work at the Beech Street School and for your support of community policing. Chief Favreau; to the Concord police chief, Dave Walchak, who is a great honor for New Hampshire, he's the president of the International Association of Police Chiefs, and we're glad to have you here.

I want to thank the others who have been with me today: your United States Attorney, Paul Gagnon; your U.S. Marshal, Ray Gagnon; the Hillsborough County attorney, Peter McDonough. And I thank Father Adrian Longchamps, who met with me today. I want to thank the police officers in particular who visited with me just a moment ago at the community station, Tyrone Guyse and Nick Willard.

And I want to say to Mr. Byron, the police officer who is standing here to my right—right before I came up here he said, "Mr. President, this is the best job I ever had. I love doing this work."

I want to thank two others who are in our group today: Pauline Coat, the executive director of the Manchester Neighborhood Services, and in some ways the linchpin of this whole experiment, Alice Septin, who is the head of the Take Back Our Neighborhood Corporation. Let's give her a big hand. [Applause] Thank you, Alice.

I thank all the community police officers who are here, all those who participated in Operation Street Sweeper. I thank the D.A.R.E. students and the people in the D.A.R.E. program who are here. Let's give them a big hand. [Applause] And I thank the AmeriCorps members who are here from Salem, for their work and their progress. Thank you very much.

It is wonderful to be back in New Hampshire, great to be back in Manchester, and great to be talking about an issue that I discussed a great deal with the people of New Hampshire back in 1992 which is now a reality on the streets of Manchester and throughout the United States.

Let me begin by saying that, as all of you know, in my State of the Union Address I tried to outline for our country what I believe the challenges are that we face today and those that we will face in the years ahead, and what I think we all have to do to meet those challenges and how I see the Nation's Government's role in working with the American people to meet them. This is an age of great possibility. There are more good things available to more people here than ever before. But it is also an age of very stiff challenge. More and more people have to work harder just to keep up in this new economy. We still have too much crime and violence. We still have a lot of other problems.

So the great challenge for us is how to expand opportunity to more Americans, how to bring this country together around our core values, how to maintain our country's leadership for freedom and for peace. The first thing we have to do is to finish the work of yesterday. That means we have to pass the right kind of balanced budget plan that eliminates the deficit but also protects our obligations to our parents, to our children, and to our future through our investments in the programs of Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, and educational opportunities. And let me emphasize again, with all the work that I have done with the Republican congressional leaders and the Democratic congressional leaders there are now more than enough savings that are common to both our plans to pass that kind of balanced budget plan, and I hope we will do it and do it soon.

After we do that we will still be left with the challenges we face. And I have identified seven that I think are the greatest challenges for our country, of which taking back our streets and making America safe is one and, in some cases, the most fundamental. We have to do more to strengthen our families. We have to do more to provide educational opportunity for all. We have to do more to provide economic security to people who are working hard but aren't getting raises and don't have access to health care and stable pensions and lifetime education and training opportunities. We have to do more to clean our environment and protect it and to grow the economy while cleaning up the environment instead of destroying it. We have to do more to fight the problems we face to our security—terrorism, weapons of mass destruction—working in concert with others for peace. We have to change the way the Government works to increase your sense of confidence in it.

When I ran here in 1994, I identified four things I thought ought to be done to reform the way the Government works. The Congress has done two of those things this year, and I applaud them. They passed a very tough reform bill on lobbying to limit what Congress can take from lobbyists and to require lobbyists to disclose how much money they spend and on what. That was a good thing. They passed a bill to require Congress to live under the laws that are imposed on the private sector. That was a good thing. I believe your former Congressman was one of the original sponsors of that legislation, Dick Swett. That was a good thing.

Now, there are two other things we need to do this year. We need to pass the line item veto that they have pledged to pass for me, and we need to pass meaningful campaign finance reform. It is very important. It can be done. It ought to be done.

But there's one other thing I want to say. A great part of this debate in Washington is about what the National Government's responsibility is. And the way you've heard this debate over the last 15 years has often been big Government is getting in the way of the American economy; big Government is undermining the independence of the American community; big Government is weakening, not strengthening, the American family.

I have to tell you that I think that is the wrong debate. The era of big Government is over. Our administration has eliminated 16,000 pages of Federal regulations, hundreds of programs, thousands of unnecessary offices. The Government is over 200,000 people smaller today than it was the day I took the oath of office as President.

But the issue is not big Government versus small Government. The issue is what is your responsibility through the National Government to work to help people make the most of their own lives, to work to help communities solve their own problems and meet their own challenges. That is the issue.

And if you look at the challenge we have to take our streets back, to make them safe again, I am very gratified at what we are doing, but we've got a long way to go. I'm gratified that the crime rate is down here. I am gratified that the crime rate is down all over America. I think it's wonderful that New York City had the biggest drop in crime since 1972. I think it is wonderful that Houston has the lowest murder rate it's had in 19 years. I think these are good things.

But we all know that our job will not be over until crime and violence are the exception, not the rule, until every neighborhood can say what I heard the people in this neighborhood say to me a few moments ago: that people now can walk outside and walk down the street and they don't have to be afraid; that the police are there at the play yard talking to the kids, and they know them by name; that people feel secure.

You can't eliminate the darkness that lurks in human nature. There will never be a time when there is absolutely no crime in America, when there is absolutely no violence. But we can go back to the days when it's the exception, not the rule, and people have their freedom on the streets of this country.

Now, my philosophy has been all along that if we could identify a national challenge and an idea that works, it was a legitimate thing for the Government in Washington—your Government—to define the "what", what is the challenge; and then to help people to meet that challenge. But the people at the grassroots level should define how to do it; that people in Washington should not be telling people how to do it. That's what we do here. In our education reforms we said, okay, here are some national standards we ought to meet; you figure out how to do it. In welfare reform we said we want to move people from welfare to work, we want people to be better parents and effective workers and break the cycle of dependence, but any State that's got a better idea about how to do it, we ought to give you permission to try.

We did it in health care. We said if you can find a way to slow health care costs and expand health coverage to people who are working through the Medicaid program, we'll give you a chance to determine how to do that. And we've given more permission to more State and local governments to do more things in the last 3 years than the previous administrations did in 12 years before me. I believe in giving States and localities and private citizens the right to determine the "how."

But the "what" in the case of crime is a national problem. Crime and violence is a national problem, and we know that community policing, which you celebrate here in Manchester, is what is working everywhere. Just a couple of weeks ago one of our major national news magazines had a cover story on turning the corner in the war against crime. And the police commissioner from New York City was featured on the cover as a stand-in for all the police officers everywhere and their community supporters who are working to make projects like this work.

Consider what has happened. The streets of New Hampshire are safer today because under the crime bill that we passed providing for community policing, there are 132 new police officers in communities all across this State. But they aren't just there as police officers, they're also changing what they're doing. They are working with community groups, like the community groups in this neighborhood. They are working not just to catch more criminals but to prevent crime from occurring in the first place and to make streets inhospitable places for the return of crime and drugs and gangs and violence. And it is working. We need to do more of it.

I heard the story of a 9-year-old girl who told an officer working in one of your community substations that her mother now allows her to play outside because the police had made it safe. Isn't that the story you want every child in America to be able to tell? Shouldn't every child in America be able to tell that story?

I was very moved by the grit and the determination of the people that I saw in the community substation today and by their sense that they could make a difference. One of the things that I constantly battle as your President is the feeling too many Americans have that their efforts won't make a difference anymore. Too many people seem to believe that we can't do better. And if one message comes out of this trip I took to Manchester this morning, should go out all over America is, when it comes to crime and violence we can do better. You have done better in Manchester. People are doing better all over this country.

We can take our streets and our neighborhoods back, but it will require a partnership between people in law enforcement, community leaders, and grassroots citizens. We have to do it together. No one can do it alone, but together we can all do it. And that is the central lesson the United States has to face today.

I want to be absolutely frank in saying that while I think it would be a disastrous mistake for the Congress to reverse course on the crime bill and not to continue until we have put the full complement of 100,000 police officers on our streets—in just a little over a year and a half we're already a third of the way home— Congress must not turn around. I want to be frank in saying to you that we could put all these police officers out in departments all across America, and if we didn't have community leaders who were prepared to take their streets and neighborhoods back, if we didn't have schools that were prepared to support the police, if we didn't have parents like those that help this substation here get decorated for Christmas and support them, we could put the police officers out there and we still wouldn't succeed.

It requires both a commitment to putting the police back on the street and in the neighborhoods and a commitment from citizens to win the war against crime. Every American should be challenged to join a neighborhood watch group; if you see somebody in trouble, to pick up a phone and call for help; to spend a few hours every week helping out young people who need a helping hand from a caring adult through a Boys Club, a Girls Club, a D.A.R.E. program, or some other constructive way to get our kids off to a good start in life.

Neighbors helping neighbors, friends sticking up for friends, parents teaching children the difference between right and wrong, establishing bonds of trust between police officers and people in the communities, all these things must also be done. But the good news is it can make a difference. And what we celebrate today, I believe, is a model of the kind of partnerships we need in America.

You have a President and a National Government that says, here is the problem: There is too much crime and violence. We know something that works everywhere it's been tried and done right, community-based policing. So we will pass a bill to provide incentives to help communities hire these police officers. But they must decide—we said the "what"; they have to decide the "how." We make no judgments about who gets hired, about how they get trained, about how they're deployed, and we can't begin to say whether or not there is a community group supporting or working with them.

So it never works unless you supply the "how." You fill in all the blanks. You take your communities back. You make the most of the potential. You give your children a chance to live up to their God-given abilities. That is the model America must adopt for dealing with all the great challenges we face today: partnership, working together. There is no more issue of big Government. But I am telling you, we cannot afford to say we're going to go back to the time when everybody just fends for themselves. The only way we're going to solve the problems we've got today is to work together, where everybody plays their role. We do it, and we make a difference.

And let me just say, a critical component of this is building some trust again between law enforcement officers and people in the community. One of the most painful experiences I've had as President was the loss of trust I felt in a lot of places like New Hampshire and my home State of Arkansas, when the law enforcement officers came to us and they said, "If you want us to do the job you have got to pass the Brady bill and you've got to give us the ability to get these assault weapons off the street where people can't be sprayed innocently while they're walking up and down the block." We've got to do it.

But then when we tried to do that we found that in a lot of States, like New Hampshire and Arkansas, where half the people have a hunting or a fishing license or both, there were a lot of people who said, "Well, this is going to take away my gun. This is going to be a terrible thing. This is going to erode the right to keep and bear arms. This is going to undermine our hunting culture." And frankly, it's hard, with as much distrust of Government as there was out there, to break through that. But now, I've been here in New Hampshire, this is my second day, and I've heard all of these fellas bragging on the deer season we just had, and not a single person lost their deer rifle. But we've got 44,000 people with criminal records who did not get handguns last year because of the Brady bill.

So we are trying to help our police officers be safer and keep these assault weapons out of the hands of gang members, but no one has lost a weapon—a sporting weapon, a hunting weapon. And maybe now that time has passed, we can rebuild the bonds of trust there, too, because the overwhelming majority of sportsmen in this country—sports men and women—are honest, good, law-abiding people, and we need everybody working together to whip this problem of crime and violence.

And now—I saw it today and I heard all of you talking about the bonds of trust increasing in this community; that's what we need more of in America. You know, most people are good people. Most people get up every day and do the best they can to do the right things. And we all look at each other sometimes with too much distrust. Again I say if we can overcome that, we can solve any problem.

But I hope all Americans will look to Manchester, and we'll look to other communities where the crime rate is going down. And I hope they will say, "Number one, we don't have to put up with this anymore. We don't have to put up with streets where our kids can't walk safely. We don't have to put up with neighborhoods where good, decent people don't want to live anymore. We don't have to move away to feel safe in our own homes. There is another way and a better way. But, secondly, that better way requires both more police officers in my community and my neighborhood walking my streets, and my personal involvement and my trust, and our sense of partnership and community."

If we have that, we can not only take our streets back and make our country safe, we can deal with any other challenge the American people face. If you look at our whole history, there has never been a single, solitary time when America failed when America worked together. And that's what we have to do today.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:20 p.m. at St. Cecilia's social hall. In his remarks, he referred to Sgt. Ronald (Red) Robidas, community policing commander; Nancy Tessier, principal, Beech Street School; and Peter Favreau, Manchester police chief.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Community in Manchester, New Hampshire Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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