Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks to the Economic Club of Detroit, Michigan

October 15, 1976

The time has come to declare that crime is unacceptable in our nation and to harness the combined resources of all government agencies and private efforts to achieve an orderly society.

The purpose of our system of law is to ensure justice. But first it must permit our people to be safe in our homes, on our streets, and in our places of business, meeting and worship.

Eight years ago, Mr. Nixon ran for President on a platform of law and order. He promised he would wage a war against crime.

He did not keep that promise. In eight years of Republican rule, serious crimes have gone up by 58 percent, and 27 percent in the last two years alone.

At the current rate, burglaries take place on an average of once every ten seconds. There are seven rapes every hour. During the time we are meeting here today, 180 buildings will be broken into throughout the country, 20 people will be robbed, and, somewhere in our nation, one person will be murdered.

Gangs of teenaged criminals have become a major threat in many of our cities. There are as many as 2,500 of these gangs, with 80,000 members, in our four largest cities. In Los Angeles, there were 112 gang-related murders last year. Here in Detroit, you have seen the way these gangs can bring anarchy to portions of a great city.

We must remember that crime and lack of justice are especially cruel to those least able to protect themselves. Last month in New York, an elderly couple, immigrants from Germany, hanged themselves to escape the consistent harassment of teenaged criminals.

Restoring order to our society is not a question of liberal versus conservative, Republican versus Democrat, black versus white, rich versus poor.

It is a question of leadership.

Recently we saw another example of the failure of leadership in this Republican Administration. Two weeks ago, Mr. Ford promised that he would start a hundred day war against crime next January if he is elected for another term.

Mr. Ford has already been in office for 800 days. There arc a hundred days left before January 20, 1977.

He has no plan. If he wants to reduce crime, why doesn't he start his crusade now?

The Republicans' showcase agency has been the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. The concept of federal assistance to state and local anticrime forces is a good one.

But waste, poor coordination and widespread mismanagement has enabled LEAA to spend $5.2 billion while making almost no contribution to reducing crime. The LEAA has done nothing about youth gangs. It has done little to assist our overcrowded courts, which are the bottleneck in our system of criminal justice.

Instead, it has often spent its money on wasteful, unnecessary equipment A test program costing $1.5 million concluded that lightweight vests would not stop bullets. The LEAA bought 3,000 of the vests for policemen to use. The LEAA has developed experimental police cars, costing $49,000 each, which police find impractical to use. The LEAA provided several helicopters, which one large city is unable to maintain. Police officers in that city now ride a helicopter owned by a local television station.

As President, I will stop the waste of millions of dollars of LEAA funds.

The Republicans have also tragically set an example not of respect for the law, but of violation of the law.

The Attorney General of the United States should be the highest symbol of honest, impartial administration of the law. But two Republican Attorneys General in the last eight years have been convicted of serious criminal acts.

The FBI has been shaken and demoralized by accusations of illegal conduct, and by efforts by the White House to use the FBI for political ends.

The Drug Enforcement Agency, created in 1973, has already been tainted by scandals that forced its director to resign.

Our overcrowded court system is now a major cause of crime. Career criminals take advantage of the system, often committing additional crimes and terrorizing potential witnesses while out on bail.

In Washington, D.C., according to a recent study, one-third of the people arrested for robbery were out on bail from previous arrests. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, 60 percent of those convicted for a second felony offense serve no time in prison at all.

In our overcrowded court system, 90 percent of all cases do not come to trial, but are disposed of through plea bargaining. For each 100 serious crimes reported to the police, only two people ever serve time in jail.

While the LEAA has been spending billions on ineffective equipment, only 6 percent of its funds have gone to our overburdened courts.

We should encourage local police to give priority to violent crimes— assault, robbery, rape, muggings, murders. When I was Governor of Georgia, we stopped treating alcoholism as a crime to provide increased medical help to alcoholics and to free our police and courts to concentrate on violent crimes.

I visited Georgia's prisons many times and almost all the inmates I met there were poor. Poor people aren't the only ones to commit crimes, but they seem to be the only ones who go to prison.

The corporate criminal, the middle class criminal, the white collar criminal too often get off with a slap on the wrist.

This can only cause contempt for the whole concept of equal justice.

White collar crimes cost this country at least $40 billion a year. Yet there has not been a single felony indictment for price-fixing since Mr. Ford took office.

Every time a person goes back to prison as a repeat offender, it is another sign that our prisons have failed. I believe we can reduce the percentage of failures and at the same time reduce the amount of crime.

Recent studies have shown that the absence of 4 strong family was the greatest single factor in causing juvenile delinquency. Teenaged gangs have grown as the strength of the family has declined. Many young people look on the gangs as second families.

I think that every policy of our government—welfare policy, tax policy, urban renewal policy, health policy—should be designed to encourage strong, stable families.

There is no excuse for crime—not unemployment or poor housing or urban decay. But I do not think it is a coincidence that in our largest cities, where up to 40 percent of the young people are unemployed, crimes committed by young people jumped by 10 percent last year.

Seventy-five percent of all serious crimes are now committed by people under twenty-five. Along with strict law enforcement, we must find ways— through improved vocational education, public incentives for job training, and urban renewal projects modeled on the civilian conservation corps—to channel young people into jobs.

Drugs, directly and indirectly, are a major factor in our crime problem. Mr. Ford's lack of interest is shown by the fact that his Cabinet level Committee on International Narcotics Control has not met once since he became President. I will consolidate the three overlapping Cabinet level committees dealing with drug abuse and control into one and I will personally see to it that it functions.

Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Administration is an administrative nightmare. Mr. Ford left it for six months without appointing an administrator.

Mr. Ford likewise let the highly effective narcotics traffickers tax program wither on the vine. I will revive the program to catch drug dealers through tax evasion indictments.

I do not accept the inevitability of increased crime in America, any more than I accept the inevitability of higher and higher inflation or unemployment.

Immediate action must be taken:

1. We must keep the Attorney General, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service out of politics.

2. We must appoint all judges and United States Attorneys strictly on the basis of merit, not politics.

3. We must eliminate our double standard of justice—one for the average citizens who go to jail—the other for big-shot criminals who go free

4. We must make sentencing swift and sure and more uniform for a given crime.

5. We must target law enforcement assistance on court reform programs which permit swift trials, especially for career criminals who most often abuse the right to bail.

6. We must provide more help for our courts to ensure better administration and to simplify their procedures.

7. We must permit law enforcement agencies to concentrate on serious and violent crimes.

8. We must concentrate law enforcement efforts more in the high crime areas.

9. Neighborhoods can be organized to cooperate with law enforcement efforts and to assist police officers.

10. We can recruit law enforcement apprentices and aides, and volunteer citizens to help with controlling crime and with pardon and parole supervision.

11. We must provide better street lighting and better recreation opportunities in areas where juvenile crime rates are high.

12. We must reform our prisons and carefully plan every inmate's prison career to maximize the effect of rehabilitation programs.

13. We must coordinate and escalate our efforts to control the illicit traffic in drugs. Special cooperation with Mexico, for instance, is necessary to reduce the sources of heroin.

14. All government programs must be constantly assessed to strengthen American families and neighborhoods.

15. National efforts by news media, educators, public officials and private organizations must be sustained to publicize the methods of preventing and combatting crime.

16. We must back our law enforcement officers, give them adequate pay and training, and insure cooperation among different government agencies responsible for controlling crime.

Presidential leadership can make a difference.

We can make our existing crime fighting programs more efficient and effective.

We can have a stronger economy, and more jobs for our people, and that will lessen crime.

I think our country's leaders, beginning with the President, can set an example and set a tone that will increase respect for the law and increase the sense of national unity, and that can lessen crime in America.

Crime reflects sickness in a society.

I think that, working together, we can make ours a more healthy society, and one in which we need not live our lives in fear. I intend, as President, to provide the leadership that will turn the tide against the scourge of crime.

I ask your help in that great undertaking.

Thank you.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks to the Economic Club of Detroit, Michigan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347573

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