Thank you, Craig [Floyd], for those kind words; for your friendship; for your many years of dedicated service and leadership as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund; and for all that you and your colleagues do – this year and every year – to make this important annual observance possible.
It’s a great privilege to stand – once again – with this distinguished group of public servants, proud family members, valued friends, and brave members and supporters of America’s law enforcement community. And it’s an honor to join you in expressing deep gratitude for another year of extraordinary achievements by our men and women in law enforcement; to thank you for your bravery; and to pay tribute to those who are missing from this crowd tonight – the heroes who have given their lives in order that their fellow citizens might be safer, their neighborhoods more secure, and their communities and country not only stronger, but more just.
These heroes were military veterans who returned from foreign battlefields to serve their states, cities, towns and tribal communities. They were young adults who aspired from an early age to stand on the front lines of our fight for security and justice. They were federal agents who faced down some of the most dangerous criminals in the world. They were decorated, lifelong officers who, after decades of service on the force, still put on their badges with pride every morning. And each of them represented the very finest this country had to offer – and the best qualified among us to lead, to serve, and to give.
Across this great country and throughout our history, America’s law enforcement officers have come to stand for all that every citizen should aspire to be. That is why we assemble to honor these brave men and women each year during National Police Week. And it’s why we stand vigil this evening: not merely to lift up the memories of our fallen comrades, to read the names inscribed on these walls, and to support one another in strength as well as in grief – but to venerate the examples of every officer memorialized here. To rededicate ourselves to extending their living legacies. And to carry on the work that defined their service and distinguished the lives they laid down on our behalf.
This year, we pay special tribute to 286 remarkable individuals, whose stories are a testament to the bravery, patriotism, and valor of America’s law enforcement officers at every level – and whose names are now permanently carved into this memorial, as a reminder of their supreme sacrifice. We remember 100 courageous men and women who were taken from us in 2013, as well as 186 distinguished public servants who passed in prior years.
These officers died doing what they were trained – and sworn – to do: saving the lives of their colleagues, protecting innocent bystanders from harm, subduing and apprehending dangerous suspects, and pursuing desperate criminals who attempted to flee from justice. Yet their deaths – in the line of duty, and in service of the country they loved – tell only one chapter of their stories.
Our nation recognizes them as brave law enforcement officers. But so many of you also knew them as doting parents and loving spouses. As loyal, compassionate, and in some cases stubborn and outspoken friends. As youth sports coaches and boxing instructors. As fans of football and 70s rock bands. And even as some of the many who descended on Ground Zero on a terrible September day more than a decade ago, after the Twin Towers fell, to help search for victims and aid in an unprecedented recovery effort.
Together, we mourn them as individuals of unmistakable integrity, unshakable character, and infinite kindness. They gave much and asked little. And tonight, in this place of honor and remembrance, they are surrounded by many who knew them, loved them, and traveled from across the country to mark their losses.
They also stand in the company of thousands of others – amid the elite ranks of those who preceded them in making the ultimate sacrifice. For some of these public servants – whose stories may have been lost for decades, and in some cases a century or more, until the Memorial Fund unearthed the details of their service and restored them to their rightful place of honor – the day may have come when no one who knew them is still living; when no friends or colleagues can make the journey to walk these grounds. Their stories, and hundreds of others, belong to history.
But their memories have not faded. We gather in our nation’s capital this evening – tens of thousands strong – to keep our promise to these brave men and women. To reaffirm that, no matter how many days or decades have gone by, there will never come a time when America forgets their sacrifices. Our country will always remember what they did – and what they gave – to enforce our laws and keep our people safe. And every American who visits this memorial – who stands in this hallowed place and runs their hands over the carved names – will feel the enormity of every loss, every absence, every life lost in the service of others.
Our nation can never repay the debts we owe to our fallen officers and their families. That’s why we must continue to do everything we can – with all that we have – to forge the safer and more just society that was their shared pursuit – and must always be our common cause. As Attorney General, I am humbled to stand with you in strengthening our support for law enforcement officers and their families. And today’s Department of Justice has made this a top priority.
Through our groundbreaking VALOR initiative – which we launched in 2010 to help officers prevent and survive violent encounters, including ambush-style assaults – we have provided cutting-edge training to more than 13,600 personnel. Between 2009 and 2013, COPS hiring funds have been used by chiefs, sheriffs, and tribal police chiefs across the country to hire, prevent the layoff, or call back from layoff more than 9,000 officers. Our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, or BVP, has awarded more than $375 million since its inception – more than a decade ago – to help purchase over one million protective vests. And as we come together to renew our commitment to these important efforts, to honor the fallen, and to carry our collective efforts into the future, I want all of you to know that – for today’s Justice Department, all of this is only the beginning.
We will never stop fighting for the tools and resources you need to do your jobs both safely and effectively. We’re committed to supporting the work you do every day. And we’re determined to keep doing everything we can to honor – and to empower – all who wear the badge.
As difficult as times may be – and as wrenching as every loss we mark this evening – we affirm this week that our work must go on. Each of us is called to serve, to protect, and to help forge a society worthy of the passion, the dedication, and the sacrifices made by each of our fallen heroes. To create not merely a monument to their stories, but a living memorial. And to build a country dedicated to preserving and perpetuating their memories by reaching for the better and brighter future that all of our citizens deserve.
This is our charge. This is our call. And we will answer it together.
Thank you. May God bless the memories of those we’ve lost. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.