Thank you, Craig [Floyd], for that kind introduction, and for your work in bringing so many distinguished public servants and proud members – and supporters – of our law enforcement family together this evening. I’m grateful for the opportunity to join with you all once again this year in honoring the service – and the profound sacrifice – of America’s finest.
For over thirty years, I’ve had the great privilege of working alongside members of the “thin blue line” – a line defined by honor, heroism, and valor. Each day I am inspired – and deeply humbled – by their unwavering commitment to protecting the American people; to ensuring the integrity of our justice system; and to serving on the front lines of our nation’s fight against crime, violence, and terrorism.
These men and women place the safety and security of others above their own. When facing uncertain dangers and confronting unpredictable threats, they consistently respond with courage, selflessness, and strength. And every day – in communities nationwide – their contributions are felt – and deeply appreciated.
Tonight’s ceremony commemorates another year that has been distinguished by extraordinary achievements – but that has also, sadly, been marked by great tragedy. We come together to pay special tribute to 362 remarkable individuals, whose stories are a testament to the endurance and strength of America’s law enforcement officers at every level – and whose names are now permanently carved into this memorial, as a reminder of their ultimate sacrifice.
We remember 163 courageous men and women who were killed in the line of duty in 2011. All of them were taken from us – far too suddenly, and far too soon – as they did 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.
We also salute 199 officers who lost their lives in earlier years, and whose stories may have been unknown until the Memorial Fund unearthed the details of their service – and restored them to their rightful place of honor.
From a Deputy Sheriff from California who was killed in 1907, while responding to a disturbance call – to a Police Officer from Florida, who, in 1941, was fatally wounded in a gun battle when he tried to stop a robbery – and even a Police Chief from Kentucky – who, 86 years ago today, laid down his life to help save a woman from domestic violence.
As we lift up these brave individuals – and the nearly 20,000 others whose names are etched into these walls – we also pledge to remember their stories. We honor their service and sacrifice. And we affirm that – although they are missing from this crowd of heroes tonight, in both memory and spirit they are still with us. Their selfless actions continue to guide and inspire us. And – in each of the law enforcement professionals gathered here, and in the work of our nation’s Department of Justice – the mission that became the cause of their lives goes on.
Of course, I realize that no words can erase the grief that we feel for each terrible loss we mark this evening. No ceremony or salute can lift the burden that is borne every day by those who knew, loved, and served alongside these heroes.
Yet I believe we can take some measure of comfort in the enduring impact that each of them has had; in the proud tradition that they all helped to strengthen; and in the sincere thanks of a nation that will be forever in their debt.
As we read these names, we are reminded that our safety too often comes at a devastating price. Especially as we observe National Police Week, we are called to reflect upon – and recommit ourselves to confronting – the challenges and threats that our officers face every time they put on the uniform. And we are compelled to stand united in our efforts to turn back the tide of violence that, in recent years, has claimed far too many lives; to keep up the historic commitment that the Justice Department and its partners have made to ensuring officer safety; and to build on the range of new initiatives that are already helping us to meet increased violence with renewed vigilance.
In advancing this work, our policemen and women expect nothing less than our best efforts. And – not only as Attorney General, but as the brother of a retired Port Authority Officer – I am proud to share your determination to make the progress we need, and to strengthen our support for officers and their families – especially in the toughest times.
In particular, I want you to know that I understand the concerns that have been associated with the Department’s Public Safety Officers Benefit Program. I recognize that – while the PSOB program does good work – these issues are not new. And although these problems did not originate with this Administration, they will end with it. We have launched a comprehensive review of the program that will result in concrete recommendations for addressing concerns, setting PSOB on a new trajectory for success, and ensuring that the families of fallen officers will always be able to count on us- in a timely fashion- to provide the support and assistance they rely on – and deserve.
Also in this regard we, as a nation, must ask a question of ourselves. Are we doing all that we can to protect those who are sworn to protect us? I share your determination to make the progress we need, to strengthen our support for the rank and file, to afford them all of the rights and benefits that we owe officers and their families especially in the toughest times, and to confront reality of the danger they face every day on our streets. A failure to respond in these areas makes hollow any words of care expressed about the well being of our law enforcement colleagues. Given the record pace at which our friends have given their lives over the last two years it is time – it is beyond time – to put aside our differences. It is time, finally, to act.
Block by block, city by city, department by department – we can combat, and hold totally accountable with the harshest penalties, the criminal element that menaces our communities and targets the law enforcement family. We may never be able to completely eliminate the dangers that our colleagues face – and the tragic reality is that, next year, there will sadly be more names to add to this memorial.
But as I look out over this crowd tonight, I cannot help but feel optimistic about our ability, if we work together, to overcome the obstacles ahead. To honor the service of those whose lives we celebrate tonight. And – in our ongoing efforts to build a more just, more safe, and more perfect Union – to lift up and make real the legacies of all of our fallen heroes. To accomplish this we must commit ourselves to their memory in all that we do – not just once a year – but in every day. In this endeavor all that has recently divided us should be cast aside and - as an American nation - we must build upon that which brings us together at this hallowed site and use the sacrifices we honor to keep safe those who continue to serve and to unite us as a country.