SAN CLEMENTE, Calif., July 29 -- President Nixon signed the District of Columbia crime bill into law today, calling it an “unprecedented and very strong” measure needed to combat crime in the Nation’s Capital.
The President, who signed the bill in his Western White House office, coupled praise for the crime measure with tough criticism of Congress for dragging its feet on 12 other pieces of law-enforcement legislation submitted by Mr. Nixon more than a year ago.
“This bill is evidence of the poorest batting average of the 91st Congress in terms of legislation submitted and not acted upon,” the President said. “It’s time for Congress to have a better than one-for-13 batting average.”
The President said that when he took office, the District of Columbia crime rate was the highest in the nation and that the city was “fast becoming the crime capital of the world.”
The bill that was approved by Congress after a long and often bitter debate he said, “provides the tools essential to stop the rise and reverse the trend.”
The bill would reorganize the local court system with more and higher paid judges, enlarge the D.C. Bail Agency, provide for a public defender to represent indigent defendants and revamp procedures for handling juveniles.
The most controversial provisions of the law authorize pretrial detention of certain “dangerous” defendants in criminal cases, expand police wiretap authority and authorize police “no-knock” arrests and searches.
Mr. Nixon said he wanted to make Washington “an example of respect for law and freedom from fear.”
He said the D.C. crime bill was the only one of 13 law enforcement measures he sent to congress over a year ago, and to be passed so far, urged, specifically, that his proposals on organized crime, narcotics and dangerous drugs and pornography be enacted quickly.
The crime legislation the President said, is nonpartisan because it is a problem that is national in scope and “both parties want action.”
In an effort to put congress’ feet to the fire on crime legislation, the President said he will try to mobilize support from state Law Enforcement Assistance Administration officials Monday in Denver during a stopover on his way back to Washington.
Mr. Nixon said he would urge the LEAA officials to use their influence “for passage by Congress of necessary laws on the federal level to reverse the rising tide of crime in this country.”
The court reorganization section of the bill permits the President to name 13 new local judges immediately, but the first phase of the new court system will not start for six months. The transfer of all local civil and criminal cases to the new Superior Court will take three years.
Other sections of the bill that do not go into effect for six months include preventive detention, wiretapping, no-knock searches, mandatory five-year prison terms for anyone convicted of a second armed crime and the expansion of the Bail Agency.
Creation of the public defender service and authorization of a $5 million federal payment to the city to help pay for the costs of the bill went into effect when the President signed the measure.