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Statement by the President Following the Signing of Law Enforcement Assistance Bills.

September 22, 1965

THE CONTROL of crime is a major target of this administration.

The Great Society we are striving to build cannot become a reality unless we strike at the roots of crime, and strike again until we have brought it under our control.

We labor for that day when every man can satisfy his basic needs and those of his family; when every child has a chance to develop his mind and enlarge his spirit to the limits of his being; when the slow killers-want, ignorance, and prejudice--are finally contained.

But if we reach that day, and still walk in terror through the public streets, our labors will have been futile. The taste of affluence would soon sour with fear. The common criminal would come to dominate our affairs, as no malign power, foreign or domestic, has ever done.

No more bitter irony could be imagined than this--that a people so committed to the quest for human dignity should have to pursue that quest in trembling behind locked doors.

We are determined that this shall not happen.

Yet the crime rate continues to rise. Our parks are deserted. Our storekeepers weigh the dangers of arming themselves against the dangers of attack. Crime and violence in the suburbs increase even more rapidly than in the central cities.

Until every woman in this land can walk the streets of her city at night, unafraid and unharmed, then we have work to do in law enforcement.

Out of this conviction, I submitted last March to the Congress a message on law enforcement. Yesterday and today I have signed into law two important instruments in our search for better ways to insure the supremacy--not of fear but of the law.

One authorizes funds for the Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. That Commission has been appointed to evaluate the many elements and types of crime--and their causes.

Its mission is to delve into the alarm, the terror, the human and financial cost that makes up 20th century crime. Its purpose is to develop facts, and having done so, to translate facts into active programs that attack the springs of criminal behavior.

It will consider the problems of crime prevention; the needs of law enforcement; the tasks of administering criminal justice in our courts; the effectiveness of our systems of corrections and rehabilitation.

The members of the Commission are among our most dedicated citizens. They have already begun their momentous work. At their first meeting in Washington a weeks ago, they demonstrated their seriousness of purpose.

While the life of the Commission is 18 months, its Chairman, Attorney General Katzenbach, has reported to me that the members are determined to make specific proposals during the course of their work and expect to make the first such recommendation in a few months.

Our efforts against crime must not, however, be limited to developing long-range programs. We must also take prompt, direct action to halt the immediate suffering which lawlessness brings to our citizens. It is my devout hope that the Law Enforcement Assistance Act I have signed today will give us the means to accelerate the fight against crime now.

This act will make funds available to States, localities, and private organizations to improve methods of law enforcement, court administration, and prison operation. For years we have provided Federal assistance in the fields of housing, employment, mental health, education, transportation, and welfare. Because the anchor of society must be an abiding respect for law and order, it is appropriate that the Federal Government provide material aid to resist crime and promote the rule of law on the local level.

We are not dealing here in subsidies. The basic responsibility for dealing with local crime and criminals is, must be, and remains local. But the Federal Government can provide an infusion of ideas and support for research, for experiments, for new programs.

The policeman is the frontline soldier in our war against crime.

He bears a burden which increases each day. We must give him modern training, organization, and equipment if he is to succeed in saving our cities from the malignancy of crime. This is a major objective of the Law Enforcement Assistance Act.

We recognize that speedy justice is both an essential of fairness and a meaningful deterrent to crime; yet we have permitted our criminal courts to flounder in delay, lack of dignity, and the tortuous disposition of criminal cases. Swift, fair, and effective justice is an objective of the Law Enforcement Assistance Act.

We believe rehabilitation is indispensable if we are to break the cycle of crime by convicted offenders. Yet, too often, we offer only four walls of a prison containing no opportunity for learning a trade, maintaining family ties, or preparing to return to the community. Too often prisoners do not leave their confinement as law-abiding men. They leave, rather, as released criminals. Rehabilitation is an objective of the Law Enforcement Assistance Act.

These are necessary goals. But it is not enough to appoint a crime commission. It is not enough to sign a Law Enforcement Assistance Act. We must move forward with the same commitment and conviction we have given our attack on every other social evil that besets our people.

The local policemen, the local district attorneys, city and State judges can know this president will support them, without hesitation, in their efforts to fight crime in their towns.

I will not be satisfied until every woman and child in this Nation can walk any street, enjoy any park, drive on any highway, and live in any community at any time of the day or night without fear of being harmed.

I have directed the Attorney General of the United States to prepare a legislative program with this objective:

To strengthen the partnership of the Federal Government with our States and local communities in performing the first and most basic function of government--the preservation of law and order and the protection of every citizen.

Note: As enacted, the joint resolution to authorize funds for the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice and the President's Commission on Crime in the District of Columbia, approved September 21, is Public Law 89-196 (79 Stat. 827); the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965, approved September 22, is Public Law 89-197 (79 Stat. 828).
See also Items 382, 422, 437, 500.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Statement by the President Following the Signing of Law Enforcement Assistance Bills. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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