February 15, 1984
The President. Welcome to the White House. We want you to enjoy yourselves, so I hope that all the police chiefs here can sit back and relax and stop worrying about what your deputies are doing back at headquarters. [Laughter]
I'm delighted to have the opportunity to help recognize National Crime Prevention Week and to tell you that crime prevention is a top priority on the national agenda. Americans should have the right and the opportunity to walk our streets without being afraid, to feel safe in our own homes, and to be confident that when our children leave the house they'll return safely.
For too many years, crime and the fear of crime robbed the -- or eroded the strength and vitality of our neighborhoods. We're finally making some headway. In 1982 -- or maybe you've already been told and know that the crime rate dropped by 4.3 percent, and that's the biggest drop since 1972.
And just last week the Senate under the able leadership of our Judiciary Committee chairman, Strom Thurmond, overwhelmingly passed our comprehensive crime control initiatives. Now, if the House would act -- and for the life of me I don't know what they're waiting for -- we could finally put a comprehensive and long-overdue anticrime package on the books. Clay, [Representative E. Clay Shaw, Jr., of Florida] we'll be working with you to try to get them moving on this.
We know that formidable challenges remain, and meeting them is what Crime Prevention Week is all about. This year the spotlight is on the Neighborhood Watch. But crime prevention is much more than that, and it's a nationwide movement. All across the country people are working together with law enforcement agencies to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their neighborhoods.
The National Exchange Club started the movement 37 years ago. And today its nearly 1,300 service clubs nationwide are working hard to promote crime preventive activities. The American Association of Retired Persons is helping the elderly. The National Crime Prevention Council and its spokesdog, McGruff, are leading a nationwide anticrime education program. The National Sheriffs Association has a key role in the Neighborhood Watch program.
Even sports teams are getting into the act. The Kansas City Chiefs, supported by local business, distribute football cards to local police departments, which in turn give them away to neighborhood children. The cards have a color, action picture of a player on one side and a crime prevention tip on the other. The only way to get a card is to ask a policeman, which reinforces positive communications between the cop on the beat and the neighborhood children.
In the past 3 years, 16 million cards have been given away. And now several other teams, including the Washington Redskins, are following suit.
And, of course, our nation's law enforcement officers are on the frontlines performing a tough job under enormous pressure. They're expected to be administrators, social workers, public relations experts, at times, philosophers and politicians, and still somehow always be an officer of the law. And I thought my job was tough. [Laughter] Well, let me assure police officers everywhere of our firm support and unfailing gratitude. If we can get our comprehensive crime control act through the House, I think your job will become a little bit easier.
And now, let me commend the Neighborhood Watch Program. It's a program that I really like. In preparing for this ceremony, we did a little research and discovered that, using conservative estimates, of course -- no other kind -- [laughter] -- that one in six live in a community with a citizen anticrime program. Watch programs in nearly 30,000 communities involve about 10 million volunteers. The best news is that they're doing a great job. Fairfax County, Virginia, reported a 44-percent drop in burglary over the last 3 years. Each day and night a thousand citizens watch out for their neighbors. Chief Buracker estimates that it would cost the taxpayer $30 million a year to replace this volunteer effort.
In Florida's Dade County, a youth crime watch program is credited for much of the 25-percent decline in school crime and 20-percent drop in narcotics use since 1983 -- pardon me, 1981. That would have been a sudden drop. We're seeing the same positive results with watch programs all over the country, from Seattle to Las Vegas to Jackson, Mississippi. And what we're really witnessing is a reaffirmation of American values: a sense of community and fellowship, individual responsibility, caring for family and friends, and a respect for the law.
I hope we can mark our observance of National Crime Prevention Week by redoubling our efforts. We'll continue cracking down on career criminals, organized crime, drug pushers, and pornographers. We'll continue working to protect the interests of victims. But the strongest guardian against crime is the American people and the institutions that bind us together as a free society. Together we can turn the tide on crime and make it permanent. And with your help, we will.
And now, it gives me great pleasure to award the George Washington Honor Medal to PACT, Police and Citizens Together, for their fine efforts in law enforcement. And I am delighted to present this award to Chief Maurice Turner of the District of Columbia Police Department and Officer Kenneth Perry of the U.S. Park Police.
Gentlemen, it's a pleasure to present this to you.
Attorney General Smith. Mr. President, I would like at this time, if I can find him, to present to you, McGruff, our national crime dog.
The President. I've got a kibble right in my pocket. [Laughter]
Attorney General Smith. And, Mr. President, one further item.
Chief Turner. Mr. President, from the Washington area law enforcement officers, we would like to present you with your own McGruff.
The President. Thank you all. God bless you, and thank you for being here.
Note: The President spoke at 10:55 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. Attorney General William French Smith also attended the ceremony.