Appearing in Cincinnati, the president received the endorsement the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union. It was a symbolic coup for a Democrat who has cast himself as a proven crime-fighter and has sought to inoculate himself against attacks on his crime record by the Republican presidential nominee. The police union had never before supported a Democrat for president; in 1992, it endorsed President George Bush.
"You do not have to put up with unacceptable rates of crime and violence," Clinton said, pointing to a recent drop in the violent-crime rate. "That is the message of this day."
Dole, needling the president for his "triumphant boasting," trotted out some crime figures of his own at a stop in Philadelphia.
"Yes, some statistics are down," Dole said. "But the truth is that half a million more Americans were victims of violent crime in 1994 than in 1992. Four out of five Americans can expect to be a violent crime victim at least once in their lives."
Both men drew cheers from the faithful supporters who came to see them. But Clinton seemed to steal Dole's limelight. Bathed in a sea of blue uniforms, the president was endorsed by the 270,000-member police union on a day when Dole had planned to denounce Clinton on crime, an issue traditionally ripe for Republicans.
The national president of the police union, Gilbert G. Gallegos, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Cincinnati that the group's backing was based as much on Clinton's record on labor issues as on his crime-fighting policies. Nevertheless, by the end of the day, Clinton had nailed down a coveted endorsement.
In making his case that he is better able to fight crime, however, the president was loose with some of the facts.
Clinton took credit for trying to get rid of "cop-killer" bullets, which would penetrate "bullet-proof" Kevlar vests. Actually, such bullets have not yet been marketed -- or even invented. The push to make them illegal began a couple of years ago, when a munitions maker claimed he had invented such a high-tech bullet. Bruce Reed, a White House domestic policy adviser, acknowledges that this was a "hoax."
In mocking the notion that any hunter would need "cop-killer bullets," the president also said, as he has in the past, that while hunting he had never seen a "deer in a bullet-proof vest." This also muddies the issue because the Kevlar-piercing bullets -- the ones never invented -- would have been used in handguns. Most standard high-powered deer rifles would penetrate body armor anyway.
"Essentially what the president is doing is hoping nobody will do their homework," said Chip Walker, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association.
Clinton touted new statistics that showed a drop in the arrest rate of juvenile offenders. What he did not note is that the juvenile-crime rate is still higher than when he arrived in the White House.
The president also spoke glowingly of his new drug czar's ambitious plans for interdicting narcotics. But Clinton avoided the fact that one of the first things he did as president was to cut most of the positions out of the old drug policy director's office. In addition, reported teen-age drug use has risen since his election.
"No matter the president's rhetoric, teen-age violent crime is higher than when he took office, and teen-age drug use has doubled during that same time," said Rep. John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican. "No amount of bunting and flags will change the fact that our children are at a greater risk from crime and drugs than they were in 1992."
Added Dole: "I go back to the Reagan and Bush years -- and we went a long way to closing off this crime pipeline at the source in teen-age drug use. From 1979 to 1992, overall drug use dropped 50 percent. But President Clinton has opened the crime pipeline up again. And thanks to the liberal wink-and-nod policies of this administration, drug use among teen-agers has not just started up again; it's skyrocketing upward."
Dole, however, made some dubious claims of his own.
While criticizing the Clinton record on drugs, the former Senate majority leader neglected to mention his vote to reduce funding for the "Safe and Drug-Free Schools" program. Dole also said he wanted more federal money for prison construction. But he voted against final passage of the 1995 crime bill -- which contained $8 billion for that purpose.
Dole said he favored instant computer checks for handguns. But he voted against the Brady bill, which allowed states to implement instant checks in lieu of a five-day waiting period.
"They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery -- but we wish Bob Dole had decided to support the president's anti-crime agenda when he could actually do something about it," said Joe Lockhart, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign. "Not only did the national Fraternal Order of Police endorse the president's crime-fighting initiatives today; so did Bob Dole."
As he has throughout the campaign season, Clinton stressed the future -- even to the point of acknowledging that more work needs to be done. Dole, as he did at his acceptance speech in San Diego, seemed to gaze into America's past for his answers.
In underscoring the horror of violent crime, Dole introduced a family whose young daughter was raped and killed while selling Girl Scout cookies -- but the crime happened 23 years ago, before Bill Clinton even entered politics.
"We shouldn't be a nation that fears the streets of our own neighborhoods," Dole added. "Many of us can think back at a time when we were growing up. We didn't lock our house. We didn't take the keys out of the car. Those days are obviously gone forever, [but] we shouldn't be a nation that lives behind locked doors."
Even the one-liner Dole used wasn't new. "President Clinton has opened the crime pipeline up again," Dole said, adding that Clinton "talks like Dirty Harry but acts like Barney Fife."
That line was used four years ago against George Bush -- by Bill Clinton.
Pub Date: 9/17/96