Remarks to Members of the National Conference of United States Attorneys

December 5, 1983

I thought of all the jokes I knew about lawyers and everything and decided -- [laughter] -- I wouldn't tell any of them.

I know there's one thing -- I'm quite sure that when you go to social gatherings or cocktail parties, something of that kind, that when you're introduced and your profession is given, someone doesn't immediately start asking for free advice, as they do with doctors. [Laughter] In the business that I used to be in there was a very noted playwright, Moss Hart, and Moss just was addicted that if he met someone, anyone with the title of ``Doctor,'' he immediately started finding a low back pain or something else he could talk about. [Laughter] And one night at a cocktail party he was introduced to a Dr. Jones, and he immediately started in. And the friend who'd introduced them, embarrassed, said, ``Moss, Dr. Jones is a doctor of economics.'' And Moss was only stopped for about 10 seconds. He said, ``I bought some stock the other day'' -- [laughter] -- --

But we're awfully glad to have you here today. You are, as the Attorney General said, among the highest officials this administration has, as they say in Washington, ``in the field.'' Now, what that means is that you're out in the real world. You're on the frontlines. You're one of our closest, most direct contacts with the people. And perhaps more than just about anyone in government, what you do each day affects the lives and fortunes of thousands, sometimes millions of your fellow Americans. And what an impact you're having. I know the Attorney General's very proud of your work, and when I heard about your conference, I wanted to take a few minutes to express our pride and gratitude for the job that you're doing.

I know many of you made considerable sacrifices in accepting the U.S. attorney appointment. I also know the monetary rewards you derive from it are not large. That's why we appreciate the enormous contribution you've been making for the past couple of years and the accomplishments your hard work has made possible.

What a relief to be able to say, thanks to our law enforcement community at the Federal, State, and local levels, crime statistics in America are finally coming down, and they'll stay down. But I know that a few people, who note that we have less people in the crime-prone age, now want to attribute the encouraging downward trend in crime to this statistical correlation. Well, a coincidence isn't a correlation. The truth is that crime has sometimes risen with population growth and sometimes not. There's nothing historically inevitable about it. The really key factor has always been the will of a society to punish those who prey on the innocent and the willingness of the leaders of that society, especially those in the judiciary and the law enforcement system, to enforce that will.

Whether it's this administration's crackdown on drug traffickers and organized crime or the tougher sentencing laws being passed in so many States, the evidence abounds that Americans want to reassert basic values -- values that say right and wrong do matter, that the individual is responsible for his actions, and that society must protect itself from career criminals who prey on the innocent and undermine the respect for law vital to freedom and prosperity.

Crime is starting to come down because for the first time in many years at the Federal, State, and local levels we are putting career criminals in jail in greater numbers and for longer periods of time. This itself is a reflection of the return to common sense and moral values that I've mentioned. The statistics bear this out. Just take the case of major drug prosecutions. In fiscal 1983 Federal law enforcement took out of circulation 2\3/4\ million pounds of illicit drugs and 20 million doses of dangerous prescription drugs.

And the numbers of arrests and indictments are dramatically up. Organized crime convictions are up from 515 in fiscal 1981 to 1,331 in 1983. And I know that you've been especially active in pressing for collection of civil and criminal fines in government debt and fraud cases. In fact, the amount collected by the Justice Department this year is double what it was last year. So, all of you've played a major role in bringing about enormous changes in a very short period of time.

And yet, I feel the full weight of your contribution is still to be felt. As you know, we've had to spend much of our time in setting the stage for change. We had to get you the tools that you need to do your job. And we're getting results. After years of decline in our investigative forces, more than a thousand new investigators and 200 new prosecutors are joining the fight against crime this year.

We've improved State and local cooperation through your own local law enforcement coordinating committees and the Justice Department's Governors Project. We've added prison space and improved training opportunities for local and State police. With your help and leadership, our 12 new regional drug task forces are beginning to bring in the big cases against drug traffickers.

And, as I'm sure many of you know, our organized crime commission held some widely publicized hearings last week here in Washington. The commission will be the first indepth look at this problem since the Kefauver hearings. It will put the menace of organized crime front and center on the American agenda, and I'm certain that its work will make your job easier.

When I announced a year ago many of these steps, including the drug task forces and organized crime commission, I said that our goal was a frontal assault on criminal syndicates in America, and I stand by those words today. I know some people like to say that we shouldn't aim too high in our goals against the syndicates. They say the mob has been around for a long time and government will never eliminate the human impulses that lead to this kind of criminal activity. Well, I've always believed that government can break up the networks, the tightly organized regional and national syndicates that make up organized crime.

So, I repeat, we're in this thing to win. There will be no negotiated settlements, no detente with the mob. It's war to the end where they're concerned. Our goal is simple: We mean to cripple their organization, dry up their profits, and put their members behind bars where they belong. They've had a free run for too long a time in this country. But while -- [applause] -- --

Now I'm sure we'll do it. [Laughter]

But while drug trafficking and, certainly, organized crime remain our major concerns, I did want to say a few words about the importance of your work in the area of fraud against the government. I've referred to this before as an unrelenting national scandal. I want to urge you today to redouble your efforts to end this scandal. I hope that when these cases come to your attention, you'll remember that those who defraud the government are not just stealing from an institution; they're stealing from the Brooklyn cab driver, the Detroit autoworker, the Texas dirt farmer, and all the millions of honest working people in this county who pay their taxes and abide by the law.

One final note: A great many Americans, like myself, have become concerned at the widespread distribution of extreme forms of obscene materials, materials that degrade human beings -- women, children, and men alike. There are Federal laws that restrict obscenity, and I think it's time to see that those laws, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, don't need tighter enforcement in your districts.

You have an impressive record that will grow even more impressive with the years ahead. But there's one important piece of unfinished business I must bring to your attention and that of the public: If we're going to ask law enforcement officials like yourselves to wage war on crime, we've got to give you the tools you need. We now have a number of crime initiatives on the Hill. You know many of the provisions -- determinate sentencing, bail reform, increased protection for witnesses and victims, enhanced drug penalties, reinstitution of the death penalty, moderation of the exclusionary rule, and many similar measures that the American people have been demanding at the State and local level for many years.

As you know, the legislation also has provisions which are important to the State and local law enforcement agencies -- surplus property, justice assistance, and certain forfeiture provisions. These items are consistent with the increased cooperation you facilitate with these agencies through your respective law enforcement coordinating committees.

The American public is overwhelmingly in favor of this kind of tough anticrime legislation. I think that's one reason why the Senate passed most of those provisions last year by a vote of 95 to 1. Now, it's important for the entire Congress to act, especially the House of Representatives, where this legislation has been tied up in committee far too long. You need this legislation. The American people want it. And now is the time for Congress to pass it.

Important changes have come to America in the last 2\1/2\ years. Our economy's growing. Our national security is improved. And crime is starting to come down. We're on the upward road again. And this is due, in no small part, to the work of each of you.

You know, if there's been one thing about this current job that bothers me, it is that there never seems to be enough time to say thank you to all the people like yourselves who are making the difference. Today, I wanted to take that time and thank you not just for myself but for the American people whose lives and futures are safer and more assured because of your unselfish efforts. And I just wanted to come over and say thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:31 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.