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John Ben Shepperd: Joint Civic Club Luncheon

July 2, 1957

Joint Civic Club Luncheon on the occasion of millionth person visiting the Crimemobile (Mineral Wells, Texas)

 

Every year in our country forty or fifty peace officers lay down their lives in the line of duty.

Many thousands of others go on about the dangerous and thankless job of guarding our homes, our lives, our property and our peace of mind. While we play, they work. They patrol the streets while we sleep. Day in and day out they take it upon themselves to deal with the world’s anger and viciousness and greed and sorrow. They are daily witnesses to human misery and they are well acquainted with violence and bloodshed.

They work year in and year out for low salaries, without glamour, without fame, and usually without recognition.

They ask no special rewards. They don’t ask for praise, and they don’t ask for sympathy. They ask for only one small thing—the one thing they should not have to ask for. They want understanding and intelligent cooperation from the public they serve—and they are not getting it. Their biggest obstacle as they go about their almost impossible job is the apathy and unconcern of the public.

Because citizens are unconcerned, law enforcement officers are badly equipped with the tools and facilities of crime fighting. They are hampered by ancient criminal laws that should have been amended and re-codified thirty years ago, and they are impeded by financial appropriations that are absurdly inadequate for the task.

There, in a nutshell, you have the reason for the existence for the Texas Law Enforcement Foundation, which is something new in crime fighting. It is a national pioneer in the field. There is no other organization like it in the world.

The primary purpose of TLEF is to make the citizens of Texas aware of their part in law enforcement—to help them understand the law. The purpose and the goals of the TLEF are lofty and vast. They can best be described in a simple story of bravery that happened in Texas last year.

In a little Texas community a fine, respected citizen suddenly went berserk. He had a gun and was threatening to kill the first person who came within range. The sheriff of that Texas county had been seriously wounded the year before by another ordinary citizen whose mind had suddenly snapped, and the man who had held the job of sheriff before him had been blinded by still another deranged person with a gun. Nobody was going to take any chances with this man—they would shoot him if they had too.

A Texas Ranger, named Lewis Rigler, arrived on the scene, and if any man ever had could courage, Rigler did. He threw away both his guns, began talking to the man, stepped into his line of fire in spite of the man’s warning that he was going to shoot, and walked right up to him and talked him into laying his gun down. It is one thing to face and intelligent criminal who is able to reason, and it is another thing to walk unarmed up to an excited maniac who wants to kill. When Lewis Rigler was commended for a job well done, his only reply was that he did exactly what he had been trained to do, nothing more.

The purpose of the Texas Law Enforcement Foundation is to gain public support and cooperation for men like Lewis Rigler—to keep such men their jobs, give them a living wage, to furnish them the tools of their profession, and to train many law enforcement officers to do their duty with such courage, such devotion, such personal dedication.

It is not the purpose of the Texas Law Enforcement Foundation to criticize, to supervise or to prod the men who enforce the law. Lewis Rigler did not a crime committee to look over his shoulder and tell him how to approach a dangerous man, or to goad him into action with the pitchfork of criticism. The purpose of the TLEF is to help, not hinder or harass.

A great deal has been said about purpose—but what about the accomplishment of the TLEF? What, specifically, is it doing that makes it a new frontier, a second front, in the war on crime? Its activities are as vast as its goals, and there is time here to name only a few.

Its most familiar and well-known undertaking is the Crimemobile, a crime-detection laboratory on wheels that travels thousands of miles a year and has been visited, since it was a launched in 1956, by one million Texans. The Crimemobile goes anywhere in the state by invitation from schools and civic clubs, to impress young people, particularly, with the fact that crime does not pay and that modern justice is inescapable. More than that, it familiarizes the public with the techniques of crime fighting, and gains support for bigger, better law enforcement efforts.

No less significant than the Crimemobile in its long-range effectiveness is the Foundation’s work toward establishing four year college courses in criminology for those who want to make crime fighting a life’s work. You can go to any good college or university and get a degree in English, drama, physical education or real estate. Is fighting crime less important than speaking good English, being athletic or selling houses and lots? Crime costs Americans about twenty billion dollars a year. It costs Texans one billion every twelve months—more than is spent in this state for all the schools, highways and public institutions combined—more than for entire state government. It costs every Texas family about $500 annually. Worse than that, a murder, manslaughter, rape or assault is committed every four minutes, and a major crime every twelve seconds. This is the price we pay for being unconcerned.

The Foundation believes in education. It is dedicated to education. Besides working for the inclusion of crime-fighting in college curricula, the TLEF:

  • Administers the scholarships awarded every year to the children of officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty;
  • Aids in financing a Police Training Academy conducted by the Southwestern Legal Foundation of Southern Methodist University;
  • Co-sponsors numerous conferences and training courses for police officers and prosecutors in cooperation with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Attorney General’s Office, State Bar and Texas University;
  • Publishes the TLEF Bulletin, which provides important information on court decisions, new techniques, and late developments in crime fighting to more than 25,000 peace officers, agencies, judges, prosecutors, schools and interested citizens throughout Texas;
  • Provides the Texas Police Association with training films for use by police agencies;
  • Publishes the “Peace Officer’s Handbook” which sums up for the law enforcement officer the legal authority for his actions and points out the limits beyond which he cannot go;
  • Is working to establish a Criminology Libraries containing a minimum of $150 worth of books in every county in Texas (this vitally important project is making especially great headway);
  • Sponsors “Law Enforcement Appreciation Week” and makes awards for outstanding service to district and county attorneys, sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, Constables, and others.

But education is only one part, one aspect, of the Foundation’s work. It also takes a direct part in the actual war on crime. It maintains a $3,000 revolving fund for the use of Texas narcotics agents in the expensive process of “buying” evidence—that is, narcotics—from the peddlers and pushers who sell drugs illegally. Officers, otherwise, have to bear this expense personally until reimbursed by a tedious process of requisition and red tape.

There are other expenses, too, that peace officers often have to bear out of their own pockets, and the Foundation is working to relieve them of that burden. Many Texas counties have radio equipment in the Sheriff’s Office only because the sheriff was willing to pay for it out of his salary. TLEF conducts a continuing survey of sheriff’s communications system, and since this project started, thirty counties have acquired radio equipment for the first time. There are still many deficiencies to overcome.

Not least among its many activities, the Foundation is making detailed studies in vast and neglected fields of law enforcement—the administration of criminal justice, personnel, salaries, equipment, criminology—with the object of getting improvements in the process of justice from the making of a law down to the incarceration and rehabilitation of the lawbreaker. TLEF is working with appropriate agencies to bring about more accurate and more extensive reporting of the number and types of crime in Texas, and intends to enter every field and batter down every barrier in order to see the number of crimes in Texas diminish year by year until Texas is a model state in the efficiency of law enforcement.

Among the Foundation’s proudest and most pleasant activities is its operation of one of the finest organizations in America—the JETS—made up of thousands of children who have earned their membership on the Junior Enforcement Team by visiting their local law enforcement agencies or courts, by taking part in law enforcement activities at school, by talking with their parents about obeying the law, and by taking a pledge to cooperate with law enforcement officers in every way they can. The value of this kind of citizen recruitment will be measured when a new generation of Texans has grown up with deeper respect for the law and a better appreciation of law enforcement.

So you see, the Foundation’s goals and activities are indeed broad. They range from putting dope peddlers in jail to putting orphans through school—from running police training academies to operating a law enforcement team for children. And this is only the beginning. There is no limit to what nine million Texans can do for better law enforcement if they get behind such an organization.

How did all this get started? Who decided that peace officers should not be forced to fight crime and public indifference too? Who came to the conclusion that the public is responsible for good or bad enforcement, and that only the public can rectify the national disgrace of crime?

The idea began when as Attorney General, I observed that Texas justice had gone about as far is it could go unless Texas citizens were awakened to their responsibilities. Officers attending one of the annual Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Conference agreed, and said, “The next forward step in law enforcement must come from the people”.

Texas businessmen and industrial concerns were quick to recognize the value of the idea. TLEF was chartered in 1955 as an educational, non-profit organization, and its beginning was financially underwritten by business, industry, and the professions. Ninety prominent businessmen now comprise the Board of Directors, and Colonel Homer Garrison, Jr., Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, heads a fifteen-member Advisory Council of professional law enforcement officers who take part in developing all of TLEF’s major policies. Erle Stanley Gardner, internationally famous author, attorney and criminologist, has served as special advisor to the TLEF since it was started. In the directorship of the organization peace officers work shoulder to shoulder with doctors, lawyers, bankers, oilmen, ranchers and citizens of all walks of life. Their actions are constructive and positive, their aims are ambitious, and their horizons are unlimited. The Foundation’s idea is simple but revolutionary, and its potentialities are beyond the imagination.

A remarkable fact about this growing Texas organization is that instead of asking for government help, its primary purpose is to help government. This is the way Americans work to meet the needs of modern society without increasing taxation, extending governmental authority over their lives, or expecting agencies and bureaus to accomplish for them what ought to be come accomplished with the heads, hearts and hands of the people. There is an example here for the citizens of all America, and a warning, there is also a prayer that the human misery and suffering wrought by crime might be lessened because citizens’ hands are stretched out to each other in cooperation for the common good of all.

[Note: The views expressed in this speech were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.]