Remarks at the Graduation Exercises of the FBI National Academy
Mr. Attorney General, Director Hoover, all of the distinguished guests, members of the graduating class, Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors from the foreign nations who are represented in the graduating class, and all of the families and friends of those who are here in the class:
I am very privileged and honored that this graduation ceremony is being held here in the White House, which belongs to all of the people of America; and I don't think that there could be any more appropriate use of this great room, the East Room, where so many ceremonies are held, than to have law enforcement at its highest level respected in the way that we respect it today.
I want to express my appreciation, too, to Mr. Hoover for giving me an honorary membership in the FBI and that allows me to tell a little story which he would have told, I am sure, if he had not thought it might be perhaps a bit presumptuous.
But he remembers, and I remember very well, that in 1937 I graduated from law school, during the depression years, just as did the Attorney General. In 1937 when I was graduating from law school, the Federal Bureau of Investigation then, as now, was doing some recruiting in the law schools and, along with three or four other members of the class, I submitted an application to become a member of the FBI and I never heard anything from that application. [Laughter]
Now, years later, after I became Vice President of the United States, I asked Mr. Hoover what happened to my application. He did not know that I had submitted one because, after all, there were many law school graduates in those depression years, I am sure, that were not able to be received into the FBI, whatever their qualifications might have been, because there were more applicants than there were positions.
So, he said, as he would always do, "I will check the files." Sure enough, he found my application. I don't know whether this part of the story is true or not, although Mr. Hoover always tells the truth but, nevertheless, he said that what had happened was that actually I had been approved as an agent of the FBI and that I would have been made a member of the FBI except for one fact: that the Congress did not appropriate the necessary funds requested for the Bureau in the year 1937. [Laughter]
I just want to say in Mr. Hoover's presence and in Mr. Mitchell's presence that that will never happen again.
There is very little that I can add to the words of the Attorney General on law enforcement and the words of Mr. Hoover, but I do think that it is appropriate in this room for me to say very briefly what I think the Nation feels about this class and what you represent.
As we consider America at this time in our history, we know we have problems. We have the problem of war abroad. We also have the problem of a great crisis of respect for law at home.
We have never really had the latter problem, respect for law, certainly not in this magnitude, in our history before. And difficult as it is to find an answer to end the war abroad, and to keep the peace abroad, difficult as that problem is, a problem which is my primary responsibility, perhaps even more difficult is that of establishing and maintaining respect for law at the highest level all over the United States.
We have been doing a lot of thinking about that in this administration. I have been doing a lot of thinking about it because of my own background in the law, and I have talked with the Attorney General and Mr. Hoover at great length about it, as they will tell you.
I do have some observations with respect to that problem that I think are quite appropriate to this occasion.
First, if we are going to have respect for law in the United States, we have to have law that deserves respect.
That means something more than the laws, the written laws on the books, being fair and equitable. That is the responsibility of the Congress, the State legislatures and also the municipal legislative bodies.
But it also means the man who enforces the law. He must be strong, he must be competent, he must be efficient, he must be fair. And that is what the FBI has stood for. That is what law enforcement, as represented by the graduates of this class all over America, I know, has stood for in the past, and will stand for even more in the future.
And so, our problem at this time is to see to it that all over America our laws, the written laws, deserve respect of all Americans, and that those who carry out the law, who have that hard, difficult, grueling, sometimes dangerous task of enforcing the law--that they carry out their responsibilities in a way that deserves respect.
I do not know of any one function or, I should say, any one man or one organization that has done more to establish respect for law in the best sense than the Director of the FBI, Mr. Hoover, and the FBI organization.
Now, a further word: During the last presidential campaign, you heard from all of the major candidates discussion of the problem of enforcement of law and respect for law in this Nation. And I am sure that many people in the country may have received the impression that the primary responsibility was at the Federal level.
There is a great deal of responsibility at the Federal level--what a President can do and an Attorney General, the Members of the Congress in the passing of laws, and the Federal courts. But the men in this room know what is really the truth, that is, that 85 percent of the job, as far as enforcement of the law is concerned, is not done by the Federal Government and its agencies, but by local government.
That is what you represent. That is why it is so important that the kind of training that you have received is going to go back all over America and to some other countries as well.
And I think that the fact that this ceremony pays tribute to the men in the city and in the town and in the county and in the State Who day by day carries on law enforcement responsibilities is something that the Nation needs to be reminded of,
That allows me to make two other points: The Attorney General referred to the matter of compensation. Compensation for law enforcement officials is inadequate. It is inadequate not in all cities, but in most; not in all towns, but in most.
And when we talk about the men who have these responsibilities, I would strongly urge that all of the local legislative bodies recognize that if we are going to be able to have within our law enforcement bodies the kind of men and the kind of women who can meet the high standards that we expect, the standards that you men represent, it is absolutely essential that they be adequately compensated.
That is one part of the problem. But then there is another part of the problem. And this is something that money can't buy. No matter how well we pay our law enforcement officials, it isn't going to mean much to them unless they also have some respect from the community, from the State, from the Nation for the job that they are doing.
It has become quite fashionable in recent years to look upon the man, the policeman, the sheriff, the representatives of various law enforcement agencies, as a second-class citizen. It has become quite fashionable to downgrade him and every time there is a conflict involving the law on the one side and those charged with breaking the law on the other side, the automatic reaction is to take the side of those who may have been charged with breaking the law.
Now we all know that sometimes one side may be right and sometimes the other side may be right. But we also know that in this country, unless we have not only respect for our laws, but for the men and women who are doing their very best to carry them out fairly and equitably, we are not going to continue to survive as a free country.
As a matter of fact, the greatest guarantee against the emergence of a police state in America is a competent, effective, just police force throughout our Nation. That is what we are talking about.
That is the challenge that the members of this class have and all of your colleagues across the country.
And that brings me to my final observation: When I sometimes read and hear about criticism of those in the police forces who are doing a fair job--underpaid but, nevertheless, giving it everything that they have, who are doing their very best, and, nevertheless, receive the condemnation of those who are so quick to criticize--I think particularly on a day like this of their families. And I see their wives here, and I see their children.
And I wonder what they must feel when they pick up the papers or look at television and hear law enforcement described in the deriding terms that it is so often described.
What I am not suggesting here is that law enforcement should be above criticism, because it is through criticism that we all do a better job in any particular assignment that we may have. But I am simply saying here to you, the members of this class, to the members of your families, and to the American people: Let us, whenever our law enforcement officials are wrong, criticize them so that they may improve and do what is right.
But when they are right, when they are protecting our society from those who would injure it or destroy it or endanger it, let us back them up. Let us give them the encouragement. Let us pay them adequately.
But above everything else, let us give them respect, respect that money cannot buy, but which they deserve by what they are doing.
Note: The President spoke at 3:42 p.m. in the East Room at the White House before presenting diplomas to 100 graduates of the 83d session of the Academy.
An announcement of the ceremony and a list of the graduates are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, pp. 670 and 769).
The text of the remarks by Attorney General Mitchell was also released.
Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Graduation Exercises of the FBI National Academy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239302