Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Special Message to the Congress on Crime and Law Enforcement.

March 09, 1966

To the Congress of the United States:

Crime--the fact of crime and the fear of crime--marks the life of every American.

We know its unrelenting pace:

--a forcible rape every 26 minutes,

--a robbery every five minutes,

--an aggravated assault every three minutes,

--a car theft every minute,

--a burglary every 28 seconds.

We know its cost in dollars--some $27 billion annually.

We know the cost it inflicts on thousands--in death, injury, suffering and anguish.

We know the still more widespread cost it exacts from millions in fear:

--Fear that can turn us into a nation of captives imprisoned nightly behind chained doors, double locks, barred windows.

--Fear that can make us afraid to walk city streets by night or public parks by day.

These are costs a truly free people cannot tolerate.

The war against crime may be slowing its increase for the moment. The most recent report of the Federal Bureau of Investigation show a 5% increase for 1965, compared to a 13% increase for 1964.

But we can take little comfort from such facts. We must not only slow, but stop--and ultimately reverse--the rate of crime increase.

The entire nation is united in concern over crime. The entire nation shares in the resolution to deal effectively with crime. But national concern is not enough. National resolution is not enough.

We must match our will with wisdom.

We must match our determination with effective action.

The safety and security of its citizens is the first duty of government.

Today, therefore, I call on the Congress and the nation to join in a three-stage national strategy against crime, welding together the efforts of local, state, and federal governments.


This Administration--with the support of this Congress--is committed to assist local authorities. For the first time in our history, an Administration has pledged to the American people that the growth of crime--local, state, and national--will be checked.

We are working in a creative federal partnership to fulfill that pledge.

1. The Law Enforcement Assistance Act, passed last fall, provides a sound foundation upon which we can now build. Under its imaginative scope, we have already launched local and federal action--generations overdue-to modernize not only police work but all aspects of the system of criminal justice.

2. The Prisoner Rehabilitation Act, passed last fall, is the most significant legislative reform in modern American penology. Hundreds of prisoners already are working in daytime jobs as they finish their sentences at night. They are learning job skills that will bring dignity to themselves and support to their families.

3. The National Crime Commission and the District of Columbia Crime Commission, established last year, have launched searching studies into the causes of crime and our present shortcomings in dealing with it.

4. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is expanding its National Academy six-fold. It will soon be able to train 1,200 rather than 200 law enforcement officials each year. It will provide special training for an additional 1,000 officers.

5. Federal efforts against organized crime have continued to increase. Racketeering indictments last year rose to a record 674, compared with 535 in 1964 and only 19 in 1960.


These programs are only initial steps on a long road. But they advance us far enough to see down that road more clearly.

And the plainest fact we can see is that piecemeal improvements will not be enough.

The need is not new. We have simply failed to meet it.

Despite the warnings of our law enforcement officials, years of public neglect have too often left the law enforcement system without necessary resources and public support.

Despite the devotion of our law enforcement officials, our law enforcement system does not deter enough of those who can be deterred. It does not detect and convict enough of those who cannot be deterred. It does not restore enough rehabilitated offenders into the law-abiding community.

Despite the dedication of our law enforcement officials, reforms too often defeat themselves because they do not go far enough.

There is a fundamental lesson we have too often ignored.

The problems of crime and law enforcement are closely interrelated.

One interlocking tie is within the very system of law enforcement.

Making police more effective is fruitless-if we continue to permit the overburdening of judges and the clogging of courts.

Increasing the number of judges is futile-if the number of competent prosecutors and defense attorneys remains inadequate.

An expanded judiciary cannot take advantage of modern thinking in sentencing-if new correctional facilities are not provided.

The best correctional programs will fail-if legitimate avenues of employment are forever closed to reformed offenders.

A second interlocking tie between all law enforcement problems is geographical.

Crime does not observe neat, jurisdictional lines between city, county, state, and federal governments.

Failure of a correctional system in one state may have a decided impact on the crime rate in another.

Shortcomings in federal or state law enforcement make more difficult the work of a city police department in its fight against racketeering.

Devoted police work in a city is of little consequence if it merely drives criminals to the adjacent county.

To improve in one field we must improve in all. To improve in one part of the country we must improve in all parts.

We must mobilize all of the resources of our creative federal system if we are to repel the threat of crime to our common well-being. The problems of crime bring us together. We must make a common response. There is no other way.


Even as we join in common action, we know there can be no instant victory. We face an immense journey. Ancient evils do not yield to easy conquest. Modern criminology has yet to light many corridors.

We cannot limit our efforts to enemies we can see. We must, with equal resolve, seek out new knowledge, new techniques, and new understanding.

In the battle against crime, unity can give us strength. But strength can give us victory only if it is joined with a bold and clear plan for the future as well as the present.

I propose a three-stage national strategy.

The first stage is an agenda for immediate action. These are the legislative steps we already know are needed--steps that should be taken without hesitation or delay.

The second stage is development of a comprehensive agenda of direct steps based on experiment and assessment for the future.

The third stage is a still broader agenda, an attack not only against crime directly, but against the roots from which it springs.

These three stages involve varying resources and commitments. But we must proceed on each of them with equal force-and we must do so now.


Each of the four aspects of law enforcement calls for reform, There are steps we can now take.

A. To Improve Crime Prevention and Detection

We must improve the quality of local law enforcement throughout the country.

The front-line soldier in the war on crime is the local law enforcement officer. Federal aid to law enforcement at the state and local level was made possible by the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965. Police, court, correctional, and university authorities have responded to the newly created Office of Law Enforcement Assistance with hundreds of imaginative ideas and proposals. A number of projects are now under way:

--The management methods of modern industry will be adapted to law enforcement problems in a new management institute for police chiefs.

--Several New England states are combining their efforts in police training by establishing the first regional leadership school in the nation.

--The first intensive national training institute for state directors of corrections will bring the advice of experts to all states in their efforts to break the cycle of criminal repeaters.

In support of these programs and the many others to follow, I am asking Congress to increase appropriations for the Law Enforcement Assistance Act from $7.2 to $13.7 million.

Even seeking the most imaginative reforms, however, underscores a fundamental truth: how well a job is done depends on the training and ability of the men who do it. I have directed the Attorney General to:

--Make grants to states, cities, and colleges and universities to elevate and intensify the training of law enforcement officers.

--Provide grants for a management exchange program, enabling police officials to travel to other departments for on the-spot-studies of promising and effective approaches.

--Provide grants to establish closed-circuit television training programs to teach basic police subjects. The first such program, involving over 200 locations in a single state, is being launched now.

--Establish an award program, in consultation with state and local officials, giving annual public recognition to outstanding police officers and others who make notable contributions to the field of law enforcement.

I recommend legislation to establish a program to send selected police officers to approved colleges and universities for a year of intensive professional study.

I recommend a loan forgiveness program under the National Defense Education Act for students who wish to enter the law enforcement profession.

If crime is to be controlled, we must control the weapons with which so many crimes are committed.

We must end the easy availability of deadly weapons to professional criminals, to delinquent youth, and to the disturbed and deranged.

We must stop the flow of firearms into dangerous hands.

It is not enough to say that gun control is a state responsibility. States with gun control laws now stand helplessly by while those laws are flouted daily by the unchecked sales of guns by mail.

Our Federal responsibility is clear. It is promptly to enact legislation, such as S. 1592, to regulate and control interstate traffic in dangerous firearms.

The front pages of our newspapers make us acutely aware of the human tragedies that flow daily from the unchecked purchase of firearms. Recent Congressional hearings added abundant evidence of the gravity of this problem.

There is no need to curtail the right of citizens to keep arms for such traditional pastimes as hunting and marksmanship. But there is a pressing need to halt blind, unquestioned mail-order sales of guns, and over-the-counter sales to buyers from out of state whose credentials cannot be known.

Only the federal government can give the several states and cities their first real chance to enforce their own gun laws. We must do so without further delay.

We must bring the latest and most effective methods of law enforcement to the District of Columbia.

I have pledged to develop a program for the Nation's capital covering all aspects of crime and crime prevention.

In the longer run, we will look to the recommendations of the President's Commission on Crime in the District of Columbia. In the meantime, there are several measures which can be carried forward.

I recommend a substantial increase in police salaries to attract and retain the best qualified officers in the District of Columbia.

I recommend a pistol registration act prohibiting the sale of deadly weapons to those who have been convicted of violent crimes, to those with a history of mental instability, and to habitual alcoholics.

To strengthen the capability of District authorities, I have asked the Attorney General to provide experimental funds to:

--Revitalize the overburdened police communications system.

--Develop a computerized crime information system for the entire metropolitan area.

--Provide additional equipment to increase police mobility and patrol effectiveness.

B. To Facilitate the Prosecution of Criminals

We must intensify our campaign against organized crime.

The most flagrant manifestation of crime in America is organized crime. It erodes our very system of justice--in all spheres of government.

It is bad enough for individuals to turn to crime because they are misguided or desperate.

It is intolerable that corporations of corruption should systematically flaunt our laws.

This concern already is deeply shared by Congress. Statutes enacted in recent years have greatly strengthened federal authority to deal with racketeering. But another legislative tool is required.

Organized crime will stop at nothing to escape detection and prosecution. Torture and murder of witnesses, efforts to bribe prosecutors and jurors--these are not shocking exceptions. They are familiar racketeering techniques.

Such methods not only make it harder to prosecute racketeers--they poison the system of law enforcement itself. They require a strong antidote, and an important one is now pending in both Houses.

This legislation would expand the authority of the Department of Justice to immunize hostile but knowledgeable witnesses against prosecution and thereby enable them to testify without incriminating themselves.

Such immunity is already provided in laws covering a number of crimes. The pending legislation would extend it to such racketeering crimes as bribery, graft, bankruptcy fraud, jury-tampering and other schemes for the obstruction of justice.

We Must Modernize Our Criminal Laws.

I propose the appointment of a Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of all the Federal criminal laws and to recommend total revision by 1968.

A number of our criminal laws are obsolete. Many are inconsistent in their efforts to make the penalty fit the crime. Many-which treat essentially the same crimes--are scattered in a crazy-quilt patchwork throughout our criminal code.

The Commission will be composed of outstanding Americans, including members of the Congress, officials of the Executive branch, jurists and members of the bar. This Commission will bring to us the most modern and rational criminal code.

We are a nation dedicated to the precepts of justice, the rule of law and the dignity of man. Our criminal code should be worthy of those ideals.

C. To Enhance Justice in Our Courts

We must reform our bail system.

The administration of criminal justice must be fair as well as effective.

Whether a person, released after arrest, is likely to flee before trial or endanger society is not determined by the wealth he commands. Yet all too often we imprison men for weeks, months, and even years--before we give them their day in court--solely because they cannot afford bail.

Effective law enforcement does not require such imprisonment.

To correct this injustice, I urge the Congress to complete action on the pending Federal Bail Reform Act and to give favorable consideration to the District of Columbia Bail Agency bill.

These measures will insure fairness. They will provide an enlightened model for those states and communities which have not already undertaken bail reform.

D. To Reclaim and Rehabilitate Lives in Our Prisons

We must establish a rational, coordinated correctional system.

No national strategy against crime can succeed if we do not restore more of our first offenders to productive society. The best law enforcement has little value if prison sentences are only temporary and embittering way stations for men whose release means a return to crime.

Today that situation is all too prevalent. In the Federal system, 30 percent of all parolees revert to crime. In most State systems the percentage is substantially higher. The task of breaking this cycle must be part of our program.

At present, we administer the prison, parole, and probation functions partly in the executive branch and partly in the judicial branch. I believe the effectiveness of our corrections programs depends on a rational, coordinated and unified approach.

Consolidating federal correctional efforts can reduce the number of repeaters.

It can strengthen the training and performance of correctional officials.

It can produce a career service of the highest professional order.

I recommend that the Federal prison, parole, and probation Junctions be unified within the Department of Justice to consolidate our presently fragmented correctional system.

We must capitalize on the beginning already made in rehabilitating prisoners.

The importance of up-to-date vocational training for inmates is clear. Chronic underemployment often goes hand-in-hand with crime. In our federal prisons, one of every three prisoners worked less than 6 months of the two years before confinement.

I am, therefore, directing the Secretary of Labor to develop effective ways to provide correctional institutions with job information for "good risk" parolees.

I am also directing the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission to re-examine the policies of all federal departments and agencies regarding the hiring of released "good risk" offenders. I am asking him to prepare progressive and effective policies to deal fairly and sensibly with them. I urge the states, local governments, and private industry to do the same.

We must deal realistically with drug addiction.

Drug addiction is a double curse. It saps life from the afflicted.

It drives its victims to commit untold crimes to secure the means to support their addiction.

Drug addiction has been a matter of federal concern for more than a half century. The Bureau of Narcotics has pursued its enforcement duties energetically and effectively. Seizure of illegal narcotics and marijuana rose 62 percent from 1962 to 1965.

But our continued insistence on treating drug addicts, once apprehended, as criminals, is neither humane nor effective. It has neither curtailed addiction nor prevented crime.

Recognizing this, we have proposed legislation to authorize the civil commitment of certain addicts, while retaining full criminal sanctions against those who peddle and sell narcotics.

This measure can reclaim lives. It can begin to eliminate the driving hunger for drugs that leads so many into lives of crime and degradation.

I urge Congress to enact this legislation.

The federal government seeks to share its knowledge, its experience and its research in this area. I have already asked the Secretary of the Treasury to develop materials which will enable local law enforcement organizations to train in far less time a far greater number of specialists in narcotics control.

I am today directing the Secretary of the Treasury to establish clinics in those cities where narcotics addiction is most prevalent to help train local law enforcement officials. By enacting the Drug Abuse Control Amendments of 1965, Congress has demonstrated its concern over the illegal flow of non-narcotic drugs. Traffic in these drugs offers a new source of income to the underworld and threatens our young people.

By these amendments, Congress has provided new weapons in the control of this traffic, and this Administration will use them with determination. In my 1967 Budget, I propose to double the funds for this program.


These various proposals are only beginning steps. If we knew today of measures to deal more effectively with crime, we would seek to adopt them. But we do not yet have the answers.

We must press forward for greater knowledge, better tools, and deeper insights. This is the task on which the National Crime Commission has already embarked. The Commission is composed of nineteen distinguished citizens, judges, law enforcement officers and other experts.

It is engaged in some 40 projects with state and local authorities.

It is drawing on the services of more than 200 of the nation's leading police chiefs, judges, sociologists, and other specialists. The Commission is:

--Surveying key American cities to learn where and when certain kinds of crime are committed, and which people are most likely to become victims. Such facts--now largely unknown--are essential to intelligent police work.

--Consulting 2,200 law enforcement agencies to identify successful police methods developed by local initiative and imagination. Communities everywhere should know about and benefit from these methods.

--Seeking new ways to break the logjams in our criminal courts, where crowded calendars are a daily reminder that too often justice delayed is justice denied.

--Analyzing alternatives to traditional, costly--and unsuccessful--prison sentences, in the effort to reclaim young first offenders and break the spiral of repeated crime.

--Studying the sources of public respect and support for local police and police attitudes toward all segments of the community. Without mutual respect, effective law enforcement is not possible.

--Exploring, in conjunction with the Law Enforcement Assistance Office, how to bring the remarkable advances of modern science to effective application in law enforcement.

The computer has revolutionized recordkeeping in modern industry. Surely it can do as much for criminal records.

Modern electronics has made it possible to summon a doctor from his seat at the opera. Surely it can do as much to make police instantly responsive to public needs.

And there may well be yet unimagined contributions which science can bring to the field of law enforcement.

The Commission's final report, due next year, can help provide specific blueprints for our national strategy. Its work will help replace the crutches of slogans, habits, and reflex with the firm support of knowledge and fact.

No matter how creative or detailed the blueprint we develop, we cannot succeed without parallel concentration by state and local authorities. They must undertake detailed planning of their own for reforms that take account of their own special strengths, needs, and traditions.

Some states and cities have already begun to do so. There is much for us to learn from them. But in many areas, there is no such broad planning, no recognition of the need for a unified attack on crime.

Therefore, I am asking the Attorney General to work with the governors of the 50 states to establish statewide committees on law enforcement and criminal justice.

Such state committees can assist--and be assisted by--the National Commission. They can stimulate the growth of public involvement and the development of a comprehensive anti-crime agenda in every part of the country.


A century ago, Thoreau wrote that "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." So it remains today.

The efforts I have described--more effective police action, more efficient courts, improved corrections, comprehensive planning for major reform--all are urgently needed.

And yet all of them together can permit us only to strike more quickly and surely at the branches. The roots of crime will remain.

An effective strategy against crime must also rest on a base of prevention. And that base can come only from action against the wellsprings of crime in our society.

Our commitment to insuring social justice and personal dignity for all Americans does not flow from a desire to fight crime. We are committed to those goals because they are right.

But social conditions which foster a sense of injustice or exploitation also breed crime. More than thirty years ago, Clarence Darrow observed:

"It is very seldom that any one is in prison for an ordinary crime unless early in life he entered a path that almost invariably led to the prison gate. Most of the inmates are the children of the poor. In many instances they are either orphans or half-orphans; their homes were the streets and byways of big cities, and their paths naturally and inevitably took them to their final fate."

The programs now underway to eliminate the degradation of poverty, the decay of our cities, the disgrace of racial discrimination, the despair of illiteracy--are all vitally important to crime prevention.

At the same time, even as we seek to fight crime by fighting injustice, the ways we deal with crime should not foster further injustice:

--Bail requirements need not add families to the welfare rolls.

--Court procedures need not increase a sense of unfair and differential treatment.

--Sentencing practices need not require that the poor go to jail while others pay fines.

--Imprisonment need not result in loss of job skills. Social injustice is not the sole reason for crime. Social justice is not the sole cure.

Even the broadest social programs cannot be panaceas. The lives and attitudes of persons long neglected do not change upon command. The effects of even the most energetic programs may be long in coming. The vast majority of our citizens who suffer poverty and discrimination do not turn to crime.

But where legitimate opportunities are closed, illegitimate opportunities are seized.

Whatever opens opportunity and hope will help to prevent crime and foster responsibility.

Effective law enforcement and social justice must be pursued together, as the foundation of our efforts against crime.

The proposals I am making today will not solve the problem of crime in this country. The war on crime will be waged by our children and our children's children. But the difficulty and complexity of the problem cannot be permitted to lead us to despair. They must lead us rather to bring greater efforts, greater ingenuity and greater determination to do battle.


The White House

March 9, 1966

Note: For statements or remarks upon signing related legislation, see Items 286, 598.
See also Item 117.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Special Message to the Congress on Crime and Law Enforcement. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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