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Thank you, Craig, for those kind words; for your leadership as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund; and for all that you and your colleagues have done to bring us together for tonight’s ceremony. It’s a privilege to take part, once again, in this important annual observance. And it’s an honor to be among so many dedicated public servants, essential partners, and proud members of America’s law enforcement community.
I’m grateful for this chance to join you in lifting up the achievements – and commemorating the profound sacrifices – of 321 of America’s finest. And I’m humbled to stand with so many of the brave men and women who are following in their footsteps, continuing their important work, and risking their own lives every day to keep our fellow citizens safe.
Especially this evening – as we gather in this place of honor, on this hallowed ground, to mark the 25th Annual Candlelight Vigil – I want to assure you that the courage, the fidelity, and the heroic final actions of our fallen officers will never be forgotten. Every day – in cities, rural areas, and tribal communities across the country – these individuals stood on the front lines of our nation’s fight against crime and violence. Each faced uncertain dangers, and a diverse array of threats, every time they put on their badge and uniform.
But they refused to back down. All of them are, and always will be, essential members of America’s law enforcement community. By confronting adversity, braving gunfire, and facing down desperate criminals, they set remarkable examples – of selflessness, fearlessness, and valor. They inspired their fellow officers and fellow citizens alike. They touched, enriched, and even saved countless lives. And although no words, and no ceremony, can erase the pain we feel at each tragic and untimely loss, my hope is that the families, friends, and colleagues of these fallen heroes can find peace in the certain knowledge that they died doing what they loved. They helped to make this world a far better, and safer, place. And, despite the fact that these brave officers were taken from us far too suddenly – and far too soon – their legacies, and contributions, will always endure.
Of the officers whose names we add to this memorial tonight, 120 lost their lives during 2012. I am encouraged to note that last year witnessed the fewest line-of-duty deaths since the 1950s. But the fact remains that even a single loss is devastating and unacceptable. Even a single act of violence against a law enforcement officer is one too many. And that’s why my colleagues at every level of today’s Justice Department will not rest, will not waver, and will not falter in fulfilling our commitment to support all of America’s law enforcement professionals – and to stand with every member of the “thin blue line” that keeps us safe.
This means providing direct assistance – through grant programs like Byrne-JAG – to help departments close budgetary gaps, expand access to the resources you need, and keep more officers on the beat. It means making investments in life-saving equipment, training programs, and information-sharing platforms to allow officers in the field to better anticipate and confront a range of threats, including ambush-style assaults. It means working with Congress to overcome recent setbacks and enact commonsense measures to prevent and reduce gun violence; to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those not legally allowed to possess them; and to ensure that – every time someone attempts to buy a gun in this country– a full background check is performed. Above all, it means fulfilling America’s obligations to law enforcement officers and their families even in the toughest of times.
To this end, we’re working to ease the burdens on the loved ones of those killed or injured in the line of duty – and to reinforce support networks, and offer peace of mind, to those who serve our nation. Over the years, through our Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, the Department has done important work in this regard. We’ve also heard, and responded to, a number of concerns about this program.
Last year, I pledged before this audience that – although these problems did not originate with this Administration, they will end with it. I indicated that it’s time to bring about fundamental changes. And tonight, I’m pleased to inform you that the Department’s Office of Justice Programs has just made a series of significant improvements to the PSOB Program. We’ll expedite the claims process with a new electronic case management system that allows families to check the status of their claims, online, whenever they want. We’ll reduce the burden on them by requiring only the documents truly necessary to support a claim. We’ll streamline the process further by bringing all PSOB functions, including legal, under one roof. Finally, we’ll ensure transparency and build an ongoing dialogue with those who need and deserve our assistance through regular consultation and meetings with our partners in field.
These changes will ensure that fallen officers and their families can get the benefits to which they’re entitled in a timely manner. The era of red tape in this vital program is over. This is an indication of the value that the Justice Department, and our entire country, must always place on the work of our law enforcement officers.
As the brother of a retired Port Authority officer – and as our nation’s Attorney General – I have always been extremely grateful for the contributions these courageous men and women make every day. As we saw last month in Boston – and as all of you continue to prove – your work has an immeasurable impact on our ability to combat terrorism, violent crime, fraud, abuse, and threats to the most vulnerable members of society. The risks you take – and the sacrifices you’re too often asked to make – are nothing short of extraordinary. And our nation owes each and every one of you a debt of gratitude we can only hope to repay.
Although we will never completely eliminate the criminal element that menaces our communities – and threatens far too many innocent lives – your actions, and the heroism we celebrate tonight, give me great confidence in our ability to keep moving forward in addressing these threats and building the brighter future our citizens deserve. Here, in this place of remembrance, the names of nearly 20,000 extraordinary public servants – fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, each of whom gave their lives to advance this struggle – are etched for all time. Here, their legacies will always live, their sacrifices will always be remembered, and their stories will always continue to move and inspire us.
As we pay tribute to the fallen – and read their names aloud this evening – let us also lift up their memories, and pledge ourselves anew to their important work. Let us do everything in our power to bring healing and offer support to those they’ve left behind. And let us rededicate ourselves, here and now, to the efforts that must remain our common cause, and to the promise these heroes sacrificed so much to fulfill: our nation’s enduring promise of security, peace, and justice for all.