KVOS Special: Interview with John J. O'Connell
- The promise of a long, hot summer
- has been more than that in places
- like Newark, New Jersey and some other spots
- in the United States.
- This by way of introducing our guest,
- John J. O'Connell Attorney General
- of the state of Washington, and a man not unfamiliar
- with many of the problems that go into situations
- which make long, hot summers.
- Mr. O'Connell, let's begin by discussing this business
- of rioting in the streets.
- Where is it heading, and in your opinion, where is it
- going to end?
- Well, of course, Duane, this is one
- of the phenomena that has attacked the United
- States in recent years.
- And of course, it's laid in the dissatisfaction
- and the unhappiness and the poverty
- and the despair of the American Negro.
- And it has become reflected in violence and in an attitude
- of hate or destruction.
- And as you point out, Newark is a tragic evidence
- of that as well as Hartford and Plainfield
- and probably some other cities during this summer.
- Many people relate this explosion or this passion
- to the increase in crime and disrespect for law and order
- in the United States today, and some of it
- may be for that reason.
- I think President Johnson this morning
- indicated that until we eliminate
- the reason for this hatred or this destructive attitude,
- we won't be able to eliminate the actual actions that
- take place.
- And he's undoubtedly right.
- I don't think, however, that this activity by the Negroes
- particularly is necessarily the reason for the increase
- in crime in the United States.
- I might say this.
- You refer to the long, hot summer.
- We don't get those up here.
- We've had a beautiful summer this year,
- but some people say that the dissatisfaction is
- related in some respect to the weather,
- and I suppose part of it is.
- That we have been extremely fortunate in our state
- that the conditions that exist in other areas of the United
- States that cause these explosions
- do not appear to exist here in our state at this time.
- Not even in the metropolitan areas?
- I don't think so.
- We have high employment.
- As yet, we don't have any heavy ghetto
- that many of the Eastern And Midwestern states have.
- But unless we take some action of some kind,
- we probably will in the years to come.
- But the conditions that exist say in Cleveland or Chicago
- or New York City or Newark do not
- exist as yet in the state of Washington, which gives us
- a passing thought, and that is, let's make sure
- that they don't exist.
- Is there any way that the enactment
- by the legislature of the Fair Housing Legislation
- might tie in to preventing this type of thing?
- Could this be one point to touch on?
- Well, most sociologists and other population experts
- and civil rights folks seem to think
- that open housing legislation would
- be a cure all for this problem.
- I'm not so sure whether it would be.
- Certainly, it would aid in eliminating
- from the feeling of the Negro the fact
- that he is compulsorily placed in a given spot in a large city
- and that he is free to roam around
- and that he won't be discriminated
- against by property owners and real estate brokers
- and what have you.
- But people, whether they be Negroes
- or like I was, Irish American or Norwegians or German
- or Italians, do sort of gather together.
- They have a community of interest.
- And whether you have open housing or not,
- I think a certain amount of this will always occur.
- It's up to the individual, and it's more
- a matter of education and understanding
- what you're saying than it is legislative.
- And in the problem of the American Negro,
- I think we should point out that we've
- made just tremendous progress in the last 10 or 15 years.
- Right here in our state when I got back
- from World War II in 1946, most restaurants
- and other places of public resort
- didn't allow a Negro to even walk in the door.
- They'd turned them down at the counter or at the table.
- This doesn't occur anymore.
- So we've made great progress that way.
- But we aren't going to solve this rather terrifying problem
- in a short period of time.
- It's going to take some time.
- You're patting us on the back in a way,
- and yet we have a problem on the Indian reservations
- or off the reservations, don't we?
- Yes we do.
- And sometimes I think if we devoted as much attention
- to the problem of the American Indian
- as we did to the problem of the American Negro,
- we could solve it because the numbers are so small in so far
- as the American Indian is concerned.
- But this is a great problem, and of course we
- have to upgrade both the Indian and the Negro.
- We have to train and educate them and give them skills
- so that they can compete in a white man's society.
- Let's hearken back.
- We started talking about crime in the streets.
- In your vantage point of Attorney General,
- do you have any close contact with people
- in similar positions in areas where
- they've been hit by these so-called race riots
- this summer?
- Yes, in most instances, I talk to the Attorney General
- of the given state as I did this morning in New Jersey,
- and we're very concerned, because this
- could happen in Seattle.
- And we'd like to know what the symptoms were
- before it came into existence, before the violence occurred
- and so forth.
- So we keep abreast of these problems
- as they occur in the United States.
- Is there any indication, have you
- been able to determine where the leadership is coming from
- for these riots?
- Is this a spontaneous thing, simply the humidity?
- Well, Ramsey Clark, the United States Attorney General
- was in our state last week, and he was asked that question.
- And he certainly would know much better
- than I. And Ramsey said that there was no conspiracy.
- There was no leadership going from city to city
- and inciting riots or violence.
- I'm frankly not so sure.
- I know human nature, and I wouldn't
- be surprised if there where some of this,
- although I have of course no substance or evidence
- to document such a feeling.
- In your opinion, and it is Clark's observation
- that people like Carmichael, Stokely Carmichael,
- are not actually mapping out a plan
- but just happened on the scene?
- Of course, if I were Stokely Carmichael
- and there was a big riot going on in say, Providence, Rhode
- Island, I'd probably drop in to see what was going on.
- I rather think, though, that the federal government
- keeps a close eye on conspiracies,
- which are against the law and against the federal statutes.
- And if they had any evidence to support
- a charge of a conspiracy to incite a riot,
- I'm sure they'd follow through.
- What are the alternatives?
- How do you stop something like this before it starts?
- Well, the best alternatives, I think,
- are negotiations or discussions between
- the so-called white leadership of a given town and the Negro
- community or the central core.
- And as long as there are expressions
- of goodwill and efforts made on both their parts
- to improve the lot of those that are disadvantaged,
- then I think the atmosphere of hostility doesn't develop.
- I think we could use a little more of this in our state.
- They make efforts, but it's always easy to forget.
- You take care of your own problem
- and take care of your own difficulties.
- It's hard enough to solve your own sometimes.
- And sometimes, you forget the man or the woman
- on the other side.
- And I think we could do a little more positive, direct work
- with the Negro communities in our state
- to make sure that they realize that we are cognizant
- of their problems.
- They are full citizens just like anyone else.
- And they're entitled to the concern of government
- and the concern of community groups.
- We've heard a great deal about crime and about the awareness
- that is apparently coming about by officials in governments
- and by civic organizations.
- Where are we going?
- What's happening?
- Well, crime I think--
- and I guess the President of the United States
- agrees with me-- is the number one domestic problem
- in the United States.
- Crime is a problem of the environment.
- We worry a lot about air and water pollution,
- about traffic, about many other complexities in our modern day
- Crime is also such a problem of the environment.
- If you're afraid of the security of your person
- or the security of your property,
- you have a first class environmental problem.
- Crime in the United States is growing at a rate
- several times faster than the population increase,
- and this is true in the state of Washington.
- Crime is a serious problem.
- We have never nationally or statewide taken a look
- at the methods we utilize to combat crime
- or prevent crime to see what we can do about it.
- So the president just completed a commissioned study on crime,
- and in the last part of his report,
- he indicates that when all is said and done,
- 90% of the problem of crime is state and local in nature.
- We read about the FBI and we watch their programs,
- and they're a great national law enforcement institution.
- But the fact remains that they only
- work in a very little narrow area of crime.
- Crime, the burglary, the robbery, the assault,
- the murder, the stolen car, the embezzlement, crime
- is a matter of state and local involvement and jurisdiction.
- So the immediate obvious answer is
- that state and local government must do something about crime
- if they're going to take any kind of a stand against it.
- Well of course, we all oppose crime.
- But isn't it more deep seeded than law enforcement
- against crime?
- Is American society gone off the tracks somewhere?
- Well, of course we are known as a violent people,
- and we're known as a people that are inclined to break the law.
- But we aren't that bad.
- A lot of people say, well, the fabric of American society
- has just gone to pieces.
- Well, I think one of the finest answers against that argument
- is the behavior of our troops in Vietnam
- who are outstanding, virile, brave soldiers.
- If there's any consolation to be taken out
- of Vietnam, that's about the only one I can think of.
- But our fabric has broken down to some degree.
- The American automobile causes a lot of our crime problem.
- The family disintegration in the United States
- causes much of our crime problem.
- Family disintegration, for example,
- well over half the American married women, mothers work, so
- that means well over half of American families
- when they're young have neither father nor mother at home
- to guide them and shape them during the day.
- And there are thousands of other reasons
- or causes or symptoms that create our problem in crime.
- Now, we can do something about it.
- , Certainly the effort of the federal government to ease
- poverty and to give hope to people who are disadvantaged is
- an answer to the problem of crime at least in part.
- If I were a man that didn't have a nickel to my name
- and faced despair and hopelessness every day,
- what reason do I have to abide by the law?
- The law is my enemy.
- So these people break the law.
- They steal and they rob and they commit various other offenses.
- There are things we can do in the social structure,
- and there are things we can do in every aspect of our impact
- governmental-wise with crime.
- Law enforcement is just one part of it.
- There has recently been For the Citizens Conference on Crime.
- Well, after the president finished his national survey
- and study and he clearly pointed out
- that this was a matter of state and local involvement,
- of course, the call was clear to us.
- We've been thinking of it for many years,
- but they did so much preliminary work
- that it was extremely valuable to us.
- So we formed a statewide citizens committee on crime
- consisting of 57 citizens, male, female, professional
- and otherwise, on a statewide basis.
- And we've had our first meeting.
- We've divided into task forces.
- What I was concerned about was the degree
- of concern and enthusiasm that I would get from just citizens.
- And I was just overpowered by the reaction.
- They are concerned about it.
- They think that by their work and by their study,
- they can point some directions where we can at least alleviate
- the causes of crime.
- Do you have any idea what these directions might be?
- Well, let's take an area like minor offenses.
- Most of our lower courts are clogged with the alcoholics.
- The drunken offenders.
- I can remember when I was a City Attorney for a police
- court in Tacoma.
- Day after day, in came the same man or woman
- who got 20 days, 30 days for being drunk.
- This is their only offense.
- They were alcoholics, and they serve virtually a life sentence
- in a city jail for being drunk.
- In and out.
- In and out.
- They'd be out a day or two days and then back in again
- for 20 or 30.
- Obviously, our approach to the problem
- of the alcoholic offender or the drunk is not working out.
- So if it isn't working out, there's
- something wrong with it.
- And if there's something wrong with it,
- let's see how we can change it administratively.
- So I think the trick is to work out some administrative device
- handling and caring for the alcoholic offender
- of a non-penal or imprisonment nature.
- The same thing, I think, can be said
- for minor traffic offenses.
- Does this involve changing a basic law?
- Does this tie into your proposal for constitutional reform?
- Or could we do it with the machinery we have?
- Oh, I think we could probably do this with that machinery.
- But where we need constitutional reform,
- and I think this is the number one governmental problem
- in our state and in every state in the union,
- is to rewrite and reshape their constitution
- to meet the urban society, which is on us right now.
- Let's take King County, the biggest county in our state,
- a metropolitan county.
- It has 32 autonomous police departments in King County.
- This is a shocking fact when it's just exposed like that.
- Here are 32 agencies all facing the same problem,
- crime in a metropolitan area.
- All autonomous, different pension system,
- different criteria for the officer,
- different training all the way down the line.
- Many of these are inefficient because they're small
- and they can't afford the specialists that's
- required in a modern massive law enforcement agency.
- Now, in order to coalesce this type of an operation in King
- County, I think some constitutional revision
- is absolutely necessary to restructure
- our system of local and county governments
- so in a given time like today where
- we have this diffluence of energy in a metropolitan area
- that we can pass a law that says we'll handle the problem
- or we'll coalesce them in this given way.
- What other phases of your proposal
- get into the realm of law enforcement or justice?
- You mean in constitution?
- Well, clear example to me is we handle crime on a local basis
- basically in the state of Washington.
- And we do it by county and by city.
- We have 39 counties in the state.
- The officer who starts the ball rolling in so far as punishment
- and incarceration when the criminal offender is concerned
- is the prosecuting attorney.
- Well, only in five counties is he elected or is he full time.
- He's elected in every county.
- 34 counties, he's part time.
- Utterly ridiculous.
- You have a part time man who is the prosecuting attorney
- in a given county, and he has to constantly argue with himself
- on the ethical considerations of whether he
- can take this case privately as against this case for the state
- or for the county publicly.
- We should have, I think, a system of district attorneys,
- and everyone who is a prosecuting attorney
- should be full time.
- I know this is a matter in Whatcom County that's
- been of some concern.
- In order to do that, you have to change the Constitution.
- Because the Constitution says each county,
- whether it be Pend Oreille with a population of 8,000 or King
- with a population of a million shall each have an elected
- prosecuting attorney for the borders
- of that particular county.
- So this all brings up more expenditures
- of taxpayers' money.
- Oh, not necessarily.
- No, we have a lot of overlapping,
- a lot of wasteful duplication.
- We just aren't running the business of government
- in my mind in an efficient fashion.
- And there are some aspects of government
- that are business in nature, and we certainly
- can steal some very valuable expertise from the business
- community in so far as running the government
- on its administration level.
- On the other hand of that scale, you
- mentioned the full time prosecutor or district attorney
- What about a public defender system?
- Is the court-appointed attorney system we now have adequate?
- No, I don't think so.
- I think we should have a public defender system as well,
- and that would probably cost some money.
- But keep in mind, when I talk about the prosecutor,
- I'm talking about combining counties, the districts.
- That is, a district might have three or four counties in it
- and just one elected prosecuting attorney.
- I think the public defender system is a good one,
- and I don't think the appointed system, although it's
- been upgraded in recent years, is adequate to the task.
- Let's keep in mind, and I think that everyone
- should keep in mind, that when we take a man's freedom away
- from him and put him in a penitentiary,
- we are destroying his most valuable asset
- as a citizen of this country.
- We take away his freedom.
- This is what we've created ourselves for.
- And when we do that, we must make absolutely sure
- that it is done for proper and just cause,
- and it should never be a casual matter as it has in the past.
- This brings to mind, of course, a number of the recent US
- Supreme Court rulings, which many law enforcement people say
- have tied their hands.
- Is this true?
- Well, I don't think so.
- What it's done to law enforcement
- is make them handle their cases in a different way.
- I know I was Prosecuting Attorney for Pierce
- County, Tacoma for six years.
- And the vast percentage of our cases
- were solved by confessions, and the confessions
- were obtained in a variety of fashions.
- Man had no recourse to a lawyer, he was quite frequently
- kept incommunicado in those days.
- And I frequently worry about the man
- that might have been convicted unjustly.
- This comes back to haunt you once in a while.
- But then that was the way things were done in those days.
- I don't think the decisions of the United States Supreme Court
- are that much of an obstacle to law enforcement.
- I like them, basically, because anytime we
- have a decision of the Supreme Court implementing
- the freedom or the liberty of an individual, I like it.
- Because to me, this is the whole magic
- of our system of government, whether it
- be a criminal or a Negro or a property owner
- or a fellow playing baseball.
- I like it.
- I think this is the real magic of the federal system.
- The answer to law enforcement is to get
- more efficient, more effective, to get better personnel.
- And I don't think these decisions will eventually
- result in being a serious problem.
- What of the future of automation of law enforcement?
- Let's look ahead just a little bit.
- Well, automation is going to be in law enforcement
- in a very short period of time, and we'll
- be punching buttons and keys and feeding information
- into these mechanical monsters just
- like every other business is.
- And they will prove, I think, to be a great boon
- to law enforcement.
- Information will come to them much more quickly.
- When you get a suspicious person you are observing,
- you get the license number of his car,
- in a matter of a few minutes you can
- get a tremendous amount of information
- to determine in your own mind whether that man is
- a dangerous person or an innocent citizen.
- Only a few years ago, we got a statewide teletype network here
- in the state of Washington.
- We were the last state on the west coast to get it.
- And this is invaluable.
- Prior to that, a man could commit a crime in say, Seattle.
- He could go to Ephrata.
- It takes days for the letter communication
- to get to Ephrata or Spokane or Walla Walla.
- Now, with a statewide teletype network
- connected all over key places, I think 20 to 30 of them
- in the state, that information is disseminated very, very
- And that's proven to be a great help to law enforcement.
- Briefly about the junior or middle appellate court
- we've heard about.
- Well, that'll be on the ballot in 1968
- as a constitutional amendment.
- We'll have seven constitutional amendments in 1968,
- and most of them the public won't understand.
- And we've probably had 200 since statehood,
- which again points out to me the absolute necessity
- of a Constitutional Convention where
- delegates elected by the people will revise our document.
- But this is worthwhile.
- We need an intermediate appellate court.
- I know my office in the same building
- that our state Supreme Court does,
- and I know how much work they do.
- And they do need an intermediate court
- to take some of the steam off of their efforts.
- Sir, our time is up.
- One last question.
- Do you have any comment about the security
- leak in the governor's office?
- Oh, I don't know whether the security
- leak was in the governor's office or not.
- I suppose you're referring to the poll which
- showed the governor in a disadvantageous position.
- This was a professional poll, and I
- assume that the results were valid,
- at least done professionally.
- But polls are interesting.
- They are subject to change.
- The public changes its mind quite a bit.
- To me, the only real valid poll is
- the one taken on election day by others than professionals.
- Thank you very much.
- State Attorney General John J. O'Connell of the State
- of Washington.
- Thank you, and good night.