Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Karol [Mason], for those kind words – and for your outstanding leadership as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs. I want to thank Vice President [Joe] Biden for hosting today’s ceremony here at the White House; for his career spent in the service of this nation; and for his lifetime of unwavering support for the brave men and women who are entrusted with our safety.
And I’d like to extend a special welcome to all of the family members of our courageous Medal of Valor recipients who are here with us today.
Your love, your support, and your sacrifices, are deeply felt – not only by your loved ones, who serve on the front lines of our fight for public safety – but by all those in our nation whose lives are made better, safer, and brighter through their service. Each and every one of you has been an essential part of everything that our awardees have accomplished. And you share in the recognitions that we are about to bestow.
It is a great pleasure to join all of you, along with Karol, BJA Director Denise O’Donnell, and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, in celebrating this auspicious occasion. And it’s a tremendous honor to stand among so many valued colleagues, distinguished public safety officers, and true American heroes – as we recognize the remarkable contributions of a courageous few; as we call attention to their inspiring individual efforts and collective accomplishments; and as we express our abiding thanks and deep appreciation for their bravery, their commitment, and their many sacrifices in the line of duty.
Every day, the American people call upon our public safety officials to respond to emergencies, to protect our loved ones, and to safeguard our nation against unrelenting challenges and evolving threats. Every day, we rely on these men and women to do the difficult and often dangerous work of protecting all that we hold dear – often without expressing the gratitude, and the respect, they so richly deserve.
And every day, these remarkable individuals answer our call without hesitation. They patrol neighborhoods defined by distress and distrust. They investigate crimes and assist victims. And they keep our communities, our homes, and our most vulnerable citizens safe from harm.
As the brother of a retired police officer, I know in a personal way how courageous these public servants are. I have seen the tremendous and often-unheralded sacrifices that they and their families are regularly called upon to make. And I have felt both the pride of seeing a loved one in uniform and the anguish of knowing they may be in harm’s way – patrolling the streets, where every seemingly-routine encounter has the potential to take an unexpected turn.
These are all exceptional individuals. Every one of them deserves our deepest gratitude and boundless respect. Yet even among the outstanding field of public servants who perform these critical responsibilities, day in and day out – in communities across the country – there are some who stand out. And today, with these prestigious medals, we recognize these exceptional few for extraordinary valor – above and beyond the call of duty.
Among our honorees this morning are two officers who responded to the tragic, hate-motivated shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; seven agents who engaged dangerous suspects in Watertown, Massachusetts, following the bombing of the Boston Marathon; and five FBI agents who risked their lives in the heroic rescue of a 5-year-old child in a perilous hostage situation in Midland City, Alabama.
One officer’s quick thinking and brave actions saved the life of a woman who had been abducted and viciously assaulted by an estranged boyfriend. One firefighter’s resilience and ingenuity were essential in rescuing an elderly woman from a house fire – an act of daring, undertaken at great personal risk. One off-duty agent lost his life when he courageously confronted an armed felon who was attempting to rob a pharmacy. And one off-duty officer’s bravery undoubtedly saved lives – while working at a local grocery store – when he intervened during another armed robbery, protecting customers and employees before being fatally wounded.
Some of the individuals we gather to honor saved the lives of their fellow officers. Some put their lives on the line to safeguard civilians and bystanders. And some gave what President Abraham Lincoln once called that “last full measure of devotion” in the performance of their duties, in defense of their fellow Americans, and in the service of their nation.
Each of these officers embodies the very best of what it means to be a public servant. And each of these award citations serves as a stirring testament – and a fitting reminder, at a time when this country is grappling with deep challenges involving public safety, law enforcement, and community engagement – that the work being done by those who guard our neighborhoods and protect our nation is exceptional, essential, and extraordinary. I am honored, and humbled, to call you partners and colleagues in the service of this country and the protection of its citizens.
And that’s why I – and my colleagues at every level of the Justice Department – have been proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you over the last six years.
Beyond these honors, America owes you a debt that must be repaid not with words, but with actions. So I’m here today not just to pay tribute to some of our most remarkable officers – and to say “thank you,” on behalf of a grateful nation, for all that you do – but to pledge my strong and unwavering support as you and your colleagues continue to carry out your vital mission.
This is a commitment that the Obama Administration has maintained since the moment we took office – from our COPS Hiring Program grants to invest in community policing and keep more officers on the streets, to the VALOR Initiative I launched in 2010 to help prevent violence against law enforcement and increase officer resilience and survivability; from our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, which has helped purchase over one million protective vests since its inception, to the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, which allowed us to provide support to every state and territory, and more than a thousand local jurisdictions, last year alone.
As we speak, my colleagues and I are also working tirelessly to empower our officers to do their jobs as safely and effectively as possible – by working with law enforcement and community leaders to address tensions wherever they have been exposed.
Over the last few months, President Obama and I have announced a variety of proposals that will enable us to bridge these divides wherever they are found – from a National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, to a historic new Task Force on 21st Century Policing – which will provide strong, national direction to the profession as a whole, on a scale not seen since the Johnson Administration. And I have been proud to travel across the country to engage directly with brave law enforcement leaders and concerned citizens in order to advance this work.
After all, we owe it to our courageous public safety officials to confront every threat they may face, to foster the trust that lies at the core of their efforts, and to honor all that they do to defend this nation and safeguard its people. So my pledge to you – here and now – is that the Justice Department’s commitment to this work will only grow stronger in the days ahead.
Under the leadership of our outstanding Attorney General-nominee, Loretta Lynch – who has been a lifelong supporter of law enforcement – the department will continue to stand with you, to fight for you, and to fulfill our sacred obligations to America’s finest. Wherever my individual path may take me in the months ahead, my personal commitment to this work will never waver. The bravery of those we honor today will never be forgotten. And the contributions of those we have lost will live on – in the work they did; in the lives they saved; and in the examples of valor and selflessness they set for generations to come.
I want to thank each of our Medal of Valor recipients, once again, for your extraordinary service. I am honored to stand with you in fulfilling the moral charge – and the enduring obligation – we share: to build the more perfect Union that our founders imagined, to create the more just society that all Americans deserve, and to make real the brighter future that you have all worked to create.
At this time, it is my great privilege to introduce another leader who has done much to advance this cause – a tireless public servant who has been a champion of law enforcement throughout his life and career. Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President of the United States – Joe Biden.