Del. seat belt law largely the work of former FBI agent


DOVER, Del. -- Patrick W. Murray, Delaware's public safety secretary, worked for a seat belt law the same way he went after criminals during his career as an FBI agent -- by the book.

Whether he was rooting out the Ku Klux Klan in the Deep South during the 1960s or speaking to groups around Delaware about why seat belt use should be mandatory in 1991, Mr. Murray has always, it seems, made his case.

His FBI career led him to command the agency's largest office.

And as a Cabinet secretary in the administration of Gov. Michael N. Castle, Mr. Murray's career in Delaware led him to help in the passage of the seat belt legislation, a feat five years in the making.

"I happen to believe in this thing very, very strongly," Mr. Murray said. "We must have a seat belt law to save lives. I think it's morally right."

One of the big reasons for the bill's passage was Mr. Murray, Governor Castle said.

"He succeeded where others failed. I'm very pleased," Mr. Castle said of Mr. Murray, 56, who joined the Cabinet in 1989. "He started talking to groups and started a true citizens' movement."

By his own count, Mr. Murray spoke before 60 groups in Kent and Sussex counties. A Lions Club here, a Rotary Club there -- any place he could find an audience.

"I was a little naive about the political process. I tried the personal approach and got absolutely no place," he said.

So rather than go to lawmakers, he went to the people.

The response, he said, was positive. Despite a "vocal minority," Mr. Murray said, he is convinced most people wanted the law.

Mr. Murray is a large man whose presence can easily dominate a room or a group. He was educated in New York as an undergraduate, at Fordham University, and at times speaks as if he is still up in the Bronx -- dropping an occasional hard "a" and using short, choppy, syllables. He can speak like, well, a cop.

When he retired from the FBI -- after rising to the post of administrative special agent in charge of its New York office, the agency's largest -- he took a private job and moved to Delaware.

After Mr. Murray helped prepare a report on the state's prison system, Mr. Castle began to approach him about a Cabinet position. At first he said no, but that answer never sits well with the chief executive.

"We talked and talked, and one day I found myself nominated for the position," Mr. Murray said.

He began as a rookie with the FBI and moved up within the organization.

"There was the challenge of going up against the Klan, going up against any criminals who consider themselves smart, big shots. I always felt that was a great challenge. The more they challenged me; the more I challenged them," he said.

There was a time when Mr. Murray was assistant special agent for Mississippi. The leader of the state Senate was the subject of a corruption case.

"I had a personal duel with him. I sent him to prison. He went away for a long time," Mr. Murray said.

And then there was the Klan.

"You couldn't be a glass of milk with those guys, let me tell you. They sent all their toughest people in there," Mr. Murray said. "You just felt utter disgust, revulsion [for the Klan]."

But despite those personal feelings, Mr. Murray said his men always went by the book. "I think that was a tribute to the FBI."

On the wall behind the desk of Mr. Murray's office are two pictures. One is of Governor Castle. The other is a black-and-white print of J. Edgar Hoover, former director of the FBI.

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