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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Delivered

President Yoes, Auxiliary President Lehmann, and Executive Director Jim Pasco, it is an honor to be here with you today.

Jim: you became Executive Director of the National Fraternal Order of Police in January of 1995, just months after I began my third tour of duty at the Justice Department. You have been a friend to the Department, and to me, ever since. My gratitude is beyond words.

Pat and Glenda: thank you also – for your partnership, for your leadership, and for your unwavering dedication to supporting our nation’s law enforcement officers.

Joining us from the Justice Department today are Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, FBI Director Chris Wray, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, ATF Director Steve Dettelbach, and U.S. Marshals Service Director Ron Davis.

Last week, the Justice Department held a series of memorials for fallen law enforcement officers from our own agencies.

We heard stories of extraordinary heroes. And we met – and cried with – the families they left behind.

To the family members, partners, colleagues, and friends who have traveled here today to remember your loved ones:

We know it is impossible to understand the grief you endure, or to fully comprehend your loss.

So, as we pay tribute to the law enforcement officers who sacrificed their lives in service to our country, we also honor the ongoing sacrifices by those they loved the most. Thank you so much for being here.

In just a few minutes, we will hear the names of 443 officers who comprise this year’s Roll Call of Heroes.

These are individuals who answered the call to serve from a wide variety of backgrounds, bringing different perspectives and different experiences to their work.

They served in big cities and in small towns. Some served for decades and mentored generations of colleagues. Others had only just begun their careers.

But each made the same promise: to serve and protect their communities.

They promised that when a call for help came, they would answer.

They promised that when a crisis arose in their community, they would respond.

They promised that nothing – no danger, no threat – would stop them from showing up when they were needed the most.

Each of the individuals we honor today kept that promise. I want to highlight just a few of their stories.

During the five-and-a-half years that Corporal Ray Hamilton served with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, he received not one but two Life-Saving Awards.

He excelled as a law enforcement officer – as a crime scene investigator, a field training officer and, finally, a member of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team.

On Christmas Eve last year, the Special Response Team was called in when a domestic violence suspect refused to leave a residence. Corporal Hamilton and his team answered the call.

The suspect shot Corporal Hamilton from a window, killing him. His wife Renee is here with us today. Thank you, Renee, for allowing us to honor your husband.

Detective Myiesha Stewart from Greenville, Mississippi, had only served with the Greenville Police Department for two years.

But in that time, she graduated from the Mississippi Delta Community College Police Academy, became an investigator, and was named the 2021 Rookie of the Year.

Her commitment to the Greenville community was evident in all of her work, including when she responded to a shots-fired call last October.

Detective Stewart did not make it home that night. She was shot and killed in the line of duty and taken from her loved ones, including her three-year-old son. We join them in honoring the memory of Detective Stewart.

Officer Howard Liebengood served with the United States Capitol Police for over 15 years. During that time, he was known to his colleagues and to the people he protected as kind, thoughtful, and selfless.

When the United States Capitol and the law enforcement officers protecting it were attacked on January 6th, 2021, Officer Liebengood answered the call. He helped to defend and secure the Capitol – and our democracy – that day.

Tragically, within days of the attack, Officer Liebengood died by suicide. His wife, Serena, and siblings John and Anne are with us today. We are grateful to honor Officer Liebengood alongside you.

Together with the extraordinary team at the FOP, Officer Liebengood’s family and many, many others advocated for passage of the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022.

That Act expanded coverage of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB) administered by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Because of their advocacy, PSOB coverage now extends to officers who are permanently and totally disabled due to certain mental health disorders, as well as to those who die by suicide as a result of exposure to traumatic events that they encounter while on duty.

This change is essential. It was long overdue.

Every single day, law enforcement officers are asked to respond to some of the most difficult, most traumatic moments that our communities face.

You are asked to be on the frontlines of combating violent crime. At the same time, you are asked to serve as first responders to some of our most entrenched social problems.

You confront devastating and dangerous situations.

You witness horrible tragedies.

You endure extraordinary violence and threats of violence directed against you.

You do all of this as your departments, offices, and agencies continue to struggle with a crisis in recruitment and retention – increasing the already heavy load on those who serve.

And you did all of this during a global pandemic that strained your departments nationwide and made your jobs even riskier.

Officers experience daily stress and trauma – merely by doing their jobs – at a level the rest of us cannot even begin to comprehend.

We know that stress can take a toll – on officers’ mental health, on their physical wellness, and on their morale.

And every day, when officers return home, it is their families who support and encourage them – even as the families struggle with their own fears for the safety of their loved ones.

Law enforcement officers and their families deserve enormous respect and gratitude for their unselfish service to their communities.

But they deserve more. They deserve the resources they need to stay safe and supported.

The United States Department of Justice is committed to doing everything in our power to provide that support. We are investing in programs that support [officer] safety, health, and wellness; in incentives to improve recruitment and retention; and in initiatives that help local law enforcement build trust between police and the communities they serve.

We know that when our officers are safe and supported, our communities are too.

Today, we honor 443 extraordinary officers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their communities.

That we do so here – in front of our Capitol and surrounded by the institutions that make up our democracy – is no accident.

What distinguishes the United States of America from so many other countries is that the protection of law – the Rule of Law – is the foundation of our system of government.

And essential to the Rule of Law are the people who dedicate their lives to enforcing it. In so doing, they ensure that the rest of us can enjoy our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As we soon listen to the names of those heroes, may we remember the courage with which they lived and worked.

May we rededicate ourselves to supporting their colleagues and their loved ones.

And may we honor their sacrifice through our continued work to keep our communities safe.

Thank you.

Updated May 15, 2023