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Thank you, Craig [Floyd], for your kind introduction; for your many years of unwavering service and dedicated leadership as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund; and for all that you and your colleagues do to bring us together for this commemoration each year. I also want to thank Secretary [Jeh] Johnson for his inspiring words. It is a deep and humbling honor to join you here today and a privilege to have the opportunity to celebrate the women and men who patrol our streets, guard our communities and keep our nation safe from harm. I am proud to stand alongside so many valiant law enforcement officers, family members and loved ones as we salute those of our fellows who are missing from this gathering tonight; as we pay tribute to their extraordinary sacrifice; and as we recommit ourselves to the noble work that they gave their lives to perform.
Every year, law enforcement officers from around the country gather here to salute their friends and colleagues, to stand in solidarity with their loved ones and to honor those who have given what President Abraham Lincoln once called the “last full measure of devotion” in the service of their country. This year, we pay tribute to 273 extraordinary 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 the 117 courageous men and women who were taken from us in 2014, as well as 156 distinguished public servants who passed in prior years.
These heroes were veterans of our armed forces who returned from dangerous missions abroad to protect the streets of their communities. They were federal agents who fought back against the scourge of human trafficking and the menace of drug cartels. They were young people who were determined, from an early age, to stand on the front lines of our fight for security and justice. They were lifelong officers with decades of service who never lost faith in their mission and never lost their passion to protect and serve. Some came from families with a long history in law enforcement; others were the first to wear the badge. But from these varied backgrounds and diverse traditions, each of them chose, as their life’s work, to lead, to serve and to give.
Every day, they brought light into this country’s darkest places – from far-flung rural neighborhoods where they extended the protection of our laws, to struggling city streets where they stood watch as guardians of peace. They were dedicated officers like Scott Johnson and Gabe Rich – proud Alaska State Troopers, beloved by their community, who were killed while carrying out an arrest on a misdemeanor charge. They were exemplary leaders like Jessica Hollis, a Senior Deputy in Texas who drowned while checking roadways for high water in heavy rain. They were fearless heroes like Melvin Santiago, a 23-year-old Jersey City police detective who had volunteered to be placed in the toughest district in the state and was shot during an ambush. And they were both members and guardians of the community, like Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, gunned down as they worked on an anti-crime patrol in New York City. They knew the dangers of their profession; they recognized the risks that they faced. But they were determined to serve their fellow citizens, proud to represent their law enforcement family and undeterred in their mission to protect their communities.
The women and men whose names are forever engraved into these walls represent the best that America has to offer. And while the earthly lives of these brave and loving souls have been tragically extinguished, in the hearts of all those gathered here today, the light that they brought to the world burns on. It burns on in the neighborhoods they served, where residents still feel the warmth of their protection. It burns on in the memories of those they left behind – proud parents, devoted spouses, brave children and loving friends. And it burns on in the work that we must all do, together, to advance the principles for which they gave their lives and to make this nation worthy of their sacrifice.
Ultimately, that is the commitment that we make today – to honor our colleagues, friends and family members not only through our words, but through the actions we take to create a living monument to their memory. We must do our part – 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. Even recently, we were reminded how hazardous this work can be, as four officers lost their lives over the space of a week to ambushes and assaults. As Attorney General, I am humbled to stand with you in strengthening our support for law enforcement officers and their families. And I am proud to say that the Department of Justice has made it a top priority to offer every tool and resource we can bring to bear in order to keep you and your loved ones safe from harm.
Through our groundbreaking VALOR initiative – which we launched in 2010 – we’ve held over 140 trainings for nearly 20,000 officers to help them prevent and survive violent encounters, including ambush-style assaults. With the support of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, we’ve delivered active shooter response training to over 60,000 officers since 2002. Our Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, or BVP, has awarded nearly $400 million since its inception in 1999 to help purchase more than 1.1 million protective vests. And through a partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, we’re working to address how we can prevent felonious assaults against law enforcement officers and promote officer wellness.
We’ve provided COPS hiring funds to precincts and districts across the country, allowing them to hire or retain thousands of officers. We awarded nearly $280 million in Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funds in 2014 alone, further promoting the capacity of local jurisdictions to harness their considerable knowledge and expertise. And we’ve begun vital projects to encourage positive community relationships, enhance procedural justice and promote the safety of our officers – from the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice to the $20 million Body-Worn Camera Pilot Partnership Program I announced just two weeks ago.
We understand – and as someone who has spent a career in law enforcement, I understand – that, even as you carry out your responsibilities with professionalism, integrity and uncommon valor, you cannot fully succeed without the partnership of the communities you serve. And I am committed – deeply committed – to ensuring that in the days ahead you not only have the grateful thanks of the Department of Justice, but also our full and unwavering support in this vital effort.
I will never stop fighting for the tools and resources you need and deserve. I will always support your essential work in the service of the mission we share – a mission for which so many have given so much. And I will proudly stand alongside you as we carry these efforts into the future. The memory of every patriot in this company of heroes – every name etched into the walls of this memorial – deserves nothing less.
Today, we celebrate and remember all that they were, all that they did and all that they stood for during the precious years we were privileged to have their service, their protection, their friendship and their love. Today, we share stories of their valor, their idealism, their humor and their grace. Today, we recommit ourselves to the high standard that they set for all of us – in the service of our country, and in support of our fellow Americans. We are all heirs to their weighty legacy and we must be champions of those they sought to protect.
And so, as we go forward, I thank you all once again for your patriotism, your service and your devotion to the cause that they knew so well – and for which their light burns on.
Thank you. May God bless the memories of those we’ve lost. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.