Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On the 2011 National Police Week

This afternoon I had the honor of attending the Top Cops event hosted by President Obama at the White House.  I will be honored Sunday to attend the National Peace Officers Memorial ceremony.  I appreciate the support the President is showing for our law enforcement officers not just this week but every week.  Local law enforcement is critical to the peace and security of our families and communities in Vermont and across the country.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation to designate May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. Every year during Police Week, thousands of law enforcement officers from around the country converge on Washington, D.C., to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice keeping all of us safe.  I want to mark this week by recognizing the heroic women and men in law enforcement who are dedicated to just that.  More than 900,000 law enforcement officers guard our communities at great risk to their safety every day.  National Peace Officers Memorial Day provides the people of the United States, in their communities, in their state capitals, and in the Nation's capital, with the opportunity to honor and reflect on the extraordinary service and sacrifice given year after year by the women and men who serve in police forces, as peace officers and in all branches of law enforcement. 

This week we honor those who lost their lives in the line of duty, and their families.  In 2010, 153 law enforcement officers died while serving in the line of duty.  Their bravery and sacrifice should not be forgotten.  Since the first recorded police death in 1792, there have been more than 19,000 law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. 

Late last week, the Senate passed a resolution I introduced to recognize those officers who lost their lives last year.  I thank Senator Grassley for joining me in sponsoring that resolution.  I am glad the Senate came together unanimously to show its strong support and appreciation of America’s law enforcement officers.

Keeping our communities safe is vitally important work and will always be dangerous, but we must work to keep those who protect us as safe as possible.  The officers who lost their lives in 2010 are a stark reminder that we must not let up in our support of those who work day in and day out in the service of all of us and our communities. 

I was proud to champion bipartisan legislation first passed more than a decade ago which has authorized Federal funding to assist in the purchase of lifesaving bulletproof vests for law enforcement officers.  I have worked hard to ensure that legislation is funded each year.  From 1999 through 2009, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program has helped provide more than 800,000 vests.  Just last year, the program paid for 95 new vests across Vermont.  These vests have saved the lives of police officers across America. 

In these tough economic times, when towns and cities have had to tighten their belts and make tough decisions about their budgets, these grants are even more important to protect law enforcement officers.  Congress must continue to support this initiative to increase the safety of those in the line of duty. 

Congress must also continue to support Federal assistance to state and local law enforcement.  Consistent support for key Federal support initiatives like the COPS program, the Byrne/JAG program, and rural law enforcement grants are an important reason why crime rates have continued to decline even as the economy struggled and state budgets tightened.  We were able to secure funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and renewed commitments in the appropriations process, which allowed police departments throughout the country to hire and maintain officers, buy needed equipment, and provide training. 

In the current budget environment, everyone has had to make sacrifices.  Even the President, who has been a strong supporter of law enforcement, has called for modest cuts in Federal assistance to state and local law enforcement.  What we cannot afford are the draconian cuts in law enforcement assistance that others are proposing.  We owe it to our law enforcement professionals and to our communities to continue our much-needed support. 

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