President Reagan today blamed rising crime on the same "utopian presumptions about human nature" that he said have also helped produce too large a federal government and a declining U.S. economy.
In a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Reagan painted a bleak picture of the human condition. "For all our science and sophistication, for all our justified pride in intellectual accomplishment, we should never forget: the jungle is always there, waiting to take us over," he said.
Police chiefs, he said, lead "the thin blue line that holds back a jungle which threatens to reclaim this clearing we call civilization."
"Just during the time you and I are together today, at least one person will be murdered, nine women will be raped, 67 other Americans will be robbed, 97 will be seriously assaulted and 389 homes will be burglarized. This all will happen in the next 30 minutes," Reagan said as he began his speech.
Despite his alarming portrayal of society, Reagan offered few new ideas to combat crime.
Instead, after declaring that we live in an age of "the human predator," Reagan acknowledged that the major effort against "career criminals" lies with state and local governments. The federal government has jurisdiction over only about 6 percent of crimes.
First on his list of new federal measures against crime was jawboning. "We will use the 'bully pulpit' of the presidency to remind the public of the seriousness of this problem," Reagan said.
The president did not mention the major recommendation of his administration's outside task force on violent crime--$2 billion in federal aid to help build more state prisons. That suggestion is too costly for these budget-cutting times, administration officials said.
Reagan did not pledge any new monies to fight crime, ignored the task force's recommendations for tightening handgun controls, but said he will support a number of legislative changes proposed by the advisory group. He urged:
* Prompt congressional revision of the federal criminal code.
* A reform to permit judges to deny bail to some violent offenders.
* Weakening the "exclusionary rule" which the president said "rests on the absurd proposition that a law enforcement error, no matter how technical, can be used to justify throwing an entire case out of court, no matter how guilty the defendant nor how heinous the crime."
* Allowing the Navy to assist in detecting drug traffickers.
* Tax law changes to make it easier for the Internal Revenue Service to cooperate in tax cases against organized crime figures and drug pushers.
* Mandatory prison terms for anyone convicted of carrying a gun while committing a felony.
* Legislation to permit judges to order criminals to make restitution to their victims.
Reagan's basic argument, in a speech that White House officials said was the opening of this administration's promised initiative against crime, was that crime, like the size of government and the nation's economic problems, has grown because of the "social thinkers" of the 1950s and 1960s who thought that government spending could solve social problems.
Underlying the premise that crime could be reduced through government programs, Reagan said, "was a belief that there was nothing permanent or absolute about man's nature" and that by changing his environment "we could permanently change man and usher in a great new age."
Reagan stopped short of saying man's nature is evil. "Men are basically good, but prone to evil; some men are very prone to evil," his text said.
In one of his many stumbles and omissions of words or phrases apparently because of difficulties Reagan had reading from a teleprompter, the president dropped the second clause of that sentence when he delivered the speech at the Rivergate Convention Center here.
He won loud applause when he elaborated his disavowal of a connection between poverty and crime.
"It's obvious that prosperity doesn't decrease crime--just as it's obvious that deprivation and want don't necessarily increase crime. The truth is that today's criminals, for the most part, are not desperate people seeking bread for their families. Crime is the way they've chosen to live," he said.
Reagan departed from his text to speak a few words of support for the death penalty. He said that as governor of California he kept on his desk a reminder that 12 murderers who had been released from prison raised their collective murder total to 34 before all were reapprehended.
The criminal justice system, he said, has broken down. At its foundation must be permanent moral values, he added.
He said that "We have learned the price of too much government" and learned that "government bureaucrats not only fail to solve social problems but also frequently make them worse."
The president added, "It's time, too, to acknowledge: The solution to the crime problem will not be found in the social worker's files, the pyschiatrist's notes or the bureaucrat's budget; it is a problem of the human heart and it is there we must look for the answers."
After his 48-minute speech, Reagan stopped at a $1,000-a-head fund-raiser, where he joked about the politics of attacking crime. He told the Louisiana Republicans that he had just spoken to the police chiefs about crime.
"I'm happy to tell you they're against it," Reagan said.