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Remarks at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Ceremony

May 13, 1993

Thank you very much, Senator DeConcini, Chairman Floyd, President Young, law enforcement officers, and survivors of our fallen brothers and sisters.

America has more than half a million law enforcement officers who serve proudly and bravely. And every day they carry out their sworn duties, risk is a constant companion. No one knows that better than those of you who are here tonight and your families. But I can say that there are very few Americans who owe more to law enforcement officers than do I. I'm proud to be joined here tonight by three people who have a very important role in the protection of the American people and who have an important role in my administration and my life. I'd like to acknowledge them if I might: the Director of the United States Secret Service, whose members put their lives on the line for the President every day, Mr. John McGaw; the Director of the Office of National Drug Policy and formerly the police chief of the cities of Atlanta, Houston, and New York, Mr. Lee Brown; and Senator DeConcini just mentioned the Attorney General, formerly the prosecutor of Dade County, Florida, Ms. Janet Reno, who just came in. She's somewhere here. I like introducing these people.

I'd also like to thank very much the survivors from Arkansas who came here with me tonight, as well as the law enforcement officials, in particular, the two members of the Arkansas State Police, who for a dozen years worked with me and protected me and my family and stood up to unbelievable pressures from radical fringe groups, from organized rioters, from serious organized criminal efforts, and the day-to-day hazards of law enforcement. I owe them all a great deal, and I'm glad they're here tonight.

More than 13,000 law enforcement officials have fallen in the line of duty. This memorial was dedicated to them a year and a half ago. Tonight we note the names of 328 more who will be newly etched on these marble stones. But our tribute will ring hollow tonight unless we recommit ourselves to do whatever we can to keep the remainder of these stones as smooth as possible, to support the men and women who keep our society more lawful and our lives more secure, to help them as enforcers, and to keep them from becoming victims.

Collectively, we call them our Thin Blue Line. That line is nothing less than our buffer against chaos, against the worst impulses of this society, a shield we may not always think about until it is raised in our own defense. The safety of our citizens in their homes, where they work, where they play, it all depends on that Thin Blue Line. And so it behooves us all to reinforce that line, to make it as strong as we can.

Let us be honest with one another. We know that nothing we do will remove all risk from law enforcement, but we can take steps that will make the profession safer and make ourselves safer as well. We could do that by passing the Brady bill. The American people want it; law enforcement officers have called for it for years. It will save lives, and it would be a tribute to those we honor here tonight.

We can also do that by increasing the number of law enforcement officers on the street. Just a generation ago there were three officers for every serious crime in this country. Today there are three crimes for every officer. It makes police work more dangerous. It makes it more difficult to implement strategies that work like community policing. It makes society less safe. Let us do more to put police officers on the street, and that will be a tribute to those whom we come here to honor tonight.

Last year Federal, State, and law enforcement officers were killed in substantial numbers, but they say that fewer were killed than at any year since the mid-1960's. Still, one is too many. And statistics, the numbers like 120 people being killed in the line of duty by violent means, they belie the real human stories.

In my State, a 74-year-old sheriffs deputy was beaten to death. That's more than an assault on a law enforcement officer; it's an affront to our common humanity. That officer, R.D. Purifoy, was from a little county next to the one where I was born in Arkansas. He was so dedicated that any time, day or night, for 26 years, he was always there to answer the call. And on the day he died last November, he was simply trying to settle a domestic quarrel.

Then there was Jerry Stallings, a police officer from Barling, Arkansas, in the western part of my State, whose family is here tonight. He was investigating an auto accident when he was struck by a drunk driver. It should have been a routine investigation, but as every law enforcement officer knows, there's no such thing as a routine investigation.

Tonight we honor these men and their families. We honor all those who have fallen throughout our Nation as they carried out their duties to make our lives better and safer: from the officers on the beat and the street, to the patrols on the highways, to the Federal agents in all fields. Tonight we light the darkness with the memories and glories of those who died in the service of their neighbors, their communities, and our Nation. Their brave souls are among us; they are carried brightly in our hearts in gratitude, in joy, in sorrow, yes, but also in the certainty that God looks after those who give such a full measure of their devotion.

We honor these valiant men and women not for dying, because death comes to us all eventually. We honor them for how they died and how they lived. In life they gave us aid when we were helpless, shielded us when we were vulnerable, lifted us when we had fallen, gave us comfort when we were afraid. In rooting out our lawless, they preserved our order. They were our fathers and sons, our brothers and sisters, our mothers and daughters. They were our friends.

Their contribution cannot be measured nor properly honored by their President or any other citizen except to say a simple thank you and to give a prayer to God for their souls. They will be remembered as all of you knew them, standing tall and ready, the sentinels of our liberty. Let us live in ways that will honor their ultimate contribution to our lives.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:40 p.m. at the memorial. In his remarks, he referred to Craig Floyd, chairman, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, and Kathleen A. Young, president, Concerns of Police Survivors.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Ceremony Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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