Selected Papers of Homer Cummings, Attorney General of the United States, 1933-1939

By Carl Brent Swisher; Homer S. Cummings | Go to book overview

1. Crime, Citizens, and Officers of the Law

[The name of the Department of Justice symbolizes in the minds of many people the enforcement of criminal laws. This indeed is one, though only one, of its important functions. Crime control, throughout most of the period of the nation's history, has been left largely to state and local governments. Federal criminal jurisdiction, traditionally, has been limited to such matters as violations of customs and internal revenue laws, postal laws, and legislation against counterfeiting. In the field of crime suppression, as in other fields, however, federal activities have increased with the spread of transportation and communication facilities and the expansion of industrial enterprise. A Criminal Division was set up in the Department of Justice a number of years ago, and an efficient Bureau of Investigation began to emerge out of a small investigatory unit. During the Hoover administration the "National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement" produced significant materials of value for students of criminology.

When the new administration came into power in 1933, the subject of crime was of much more than routine importance. The era of prohibition, with the widespread disapproval and flouting of law which accompanied it, had been a breeding period for lawlessness as well as disrespect for law generally. Bootleggers, and the highjackers who preyed upon them, had become a serious threat to the preservation of domestic order. The depression brought hard times to prohibition criminals as well as to legitimate business men, and drove other men into crime in search of a livelihood. Ruthless groups of racketeers and kidnapers terrorized various sections of the country, often dramatizing their activities sufficiently to capture youthful imaginations and lead a new generation into crime. The end of prohibition meant the impoverishment of prohibition violators and their retainers, unless they could expand their activities into other fields.

It was clearly apparent that the nation faced a crisis in the field of criminal law enforcement quite as serious as the crisis prevailing in business and industry. Along with his other tasks, therefore, Attorney General Cummings gave earnest attention to working out a crime control program. Ed.]

-23-

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