President Barack Obama joined scores of police officers from across the country and the loved ones of officers who’ve been killed in the line of duty to pay tribute the fallen during the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service on Friday.
“We are here to honor the heroes who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty, men and women who put themselves in the way of danger so that the rest of us could live in safety,” Obama said.
“To all the families that are here today whose loved ones didn’t come home at the end of a shift, please know how deeply sorry we are for the loss that you’ve endured, know how deeply grateful we are for your loved ones sacrifice, we hold them up as heroes because that’s what they are. It takes a special kind of courage to be a peace officer,” Obama added.
The president’s message to the officers gathered on the Capitol Grounds in Washington on Friday morning, the families of fallen officers and the broader law enforcement community, comes as tension between police and many of the communities they serve has been exacerbated amid a number of high-profile cases of killings of black men by police across the country.
While Obama did not address the issue directly, he called for healing between police and the communities they serve.
“We cannot erase every darkness or danger from the duty you’ve chosen. We can offer you the support you need to be safer, we can make the communities you care about and protest safer as well, we can make sure you have the resources you need to do your job, we can do everything we have to do to combat the poverty that plagues too many communities you have to serve,” Obama said. “We can work harder—as a nation—to heal the rifts that still exist in some places between law enforcement & the people you … protect.”
Following his brief speech, Obama walked from a stage and stood before a large memorial wreath during a moment of silence. The president then walked a line where he shared handshakes and hugs with the families of fallen officers. Each family would be given the opportunity to add a carnation to the memorial wreath in honor of their particular loved one.
The Peace Officers Memorial Service, held annually on May 15, caps Police Week, a nationally recognized week to honor the more than 19,000 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
Last year was an especially deadly year for officers. In 2014 126 officers died in the line of duty compared to 102 in 2013. Those totals included homicides and accidents.
Police Week this year was marked by the killing of a number of officers, including the shooting deaths last week of two officers in Mississippi and days earlier the fatal shooting of another in New York City.
“On behalf of the American people, for the family, friends and fellow officers of those we’ve lost, my prayers and my deepest thanks,” Obama said. “We could not be prouder of them, more grateful for their service.”