Remarks By President Biden at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service
12:28 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: President Yoes; Auxiliary President Hennie; Auxiliary President Lehmann; and Director and good friend Jimmy Pasco — we’ve worked together a long time: Thank you for inviting me to join you today and for the service you’ve extended to this nation.
I’d also like to thank the Attorney General — General Garland; Attorney General Gupta; Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas; and the Directors of the FBI and Secret Service; Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the U.S. Marshalls Service; U.S. Capitol Police — all for being here, but for your leadership.
We’re also joined by my long-time friends, Senator Patrick Leahy and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Before I begin, let me say a word about yesterday’s mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. A lone gunman, armed with weapons of war and a hate-filled soul, shot and killed 10 innocent people in cold blood at a grocery story on Saturday afternoon.
Jill and I, like all of you, pray for the victims and their families and a devastated community.
I’ve been receiving updates from my team at the White House that’s in close contact with the Justice Department. We’re still gathering the facts, but already the Justice Department has stated publicly that it is investigating the matter as a hate crime, a racially motivated act of white supremacy and violent extremism.
As they do, we must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America. Our hearts are heavy once again, but our resolve must never, ever waver.
No one understands this more than the people sitting in front of me — moms, dads, children, family members — about how those folks in Buffalo feel today when they got the call. They’re pulled into — it’s as if you get pulled into a black hole in your chest and there’s no way out.
Jill and I know — we know no memorial, no gestures can fill the void in the hearts they have now or that you — you who have lost someone feel as well.
Being here today and hearing the name of your husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister brings it all back as if you just got that phone call 10 minutes ago.
The American people, we owe you. You know, you (inaudible) down the street, you’re normal families, all neighbors. And every day, you worry and you worry you’d get that phone call when they pinned on that shield. And now you look at an empty chair.
Although I didn’t personally know your husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, I knew them. They were the first ones to run into help when everyone else ran away when we were kids, when we were young men and women. Even in grade school, they’d jump in when someone else was threatened or being bullied, regardless of the odds.
Think about it. It was part of their DNA. They didn’t think about it in terms of serving and protecting and defending, but that’s what they did. They served even before they put on that shield. They protected. And they were there.
Being a police officer is not just what they did. It’s who they were.
I was telling the president of this organization, I grew up in a neighborhood where you became a cop, a firefighter, or a priest. I wasn’t qualified for any of them, so here I am. (Laughter.)
But all kidding aside, we expect so much from our law enforcement officers today. This is a different world we’re in. Just in the last several years, it’s so much more complicated. The job is complicated.
Yet we expect so much more of all of you. We expect you to be drug counselors for the 100,000 overdose deaths that took place this year — 100,000.
We expect you to counsel those who speak to a couple in the midst of a violent confrontation of a husband and wife, man and woman. So many of you are — literally and figuratively get caught in the crossfire. You’re not trained psychologists; you’re law enforcement officers.
We expect you to be everything. We expect everything of you. Being a cop today is a heck of a lot harder than it’s ever been. COVID-19 — one million deaths in America, leaving behind, the estimates indicate, nine significant family members or others who also look at that empty chair at the kitchen table. So many kids left behind because of COVID and schools closing down.
You engage in longer shifts. The strain and stress of it all is why I continue to be so committed to do more, do better to keep you safe, to keep our communities safe, and to build trust and respect that everyone deserves, particularly all of you.
We should focus on and fund the things we know that work, like crime prevention and community policing. Not one cop in a car, but two walking the street. Cops who walk the beat, who know the neighborhood, who can restore trust and safety.
Folks, the answer is not to abandon the streets. It’s not to choose between safety and equal justice. And we should agree: It’s not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them with the resources, the training — (applause) — they need to protect our communities and themselves and restore trust among the police and the people.
My dad used to say — when someone would say, “Let me tell you what I value, Joe.” He’d look at them and say, “Don’t tell me what you…” My dad was a well-read, high-school-educated man who was a graceful man. He’d say, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I will tell you what you value.”
Well, here’s what I value. As soon as I came to office, we inherited a raging pandemic, with only 2 million people vaccinated. We needed to rebuild our economy and restore public safety.
We understood the risk that communities could face with rising violence during the pandemic and at a time when state and local budgets were shrinking because they didn’t have the tax base. They were having to lay off cops, firefighters, teachers. They were under tremendous strain.
So, we made sure we passed a thing called the American Rescue Plan, providing historic $350 billion directly to the cities and counties and states and Tribes so they didn’t have to lay off law enforcement. They could keep the cops on the job and fight to keep communities safe.
And it’s working. More than 300 communities, from big cities to small towns, are using more than $10 billion of American Rescue Plan funds for violence prevention and public safety this year — building new police training facilities; recruiting, which is getting harder; hiring; and giving policemen a raise; partnering with the federal, state, and local community groups to reduce gun violence; investing in community interventions that use trusted community members to work directly with people who are most likely to commit gun crimes or become the victims of gun crimes and intervene before it’s too late.
My mother used to say, “Out of everything bad, something good will come if you look hard enough for it.” Well, we’re looking hard to determine why and what we can do to prevent that law enforcement officer being put in the middle.
I’m encouraging every mayor, governor to use the American resource money they have, and they have it now. You spend it now — this summer, when crime historically spikes.
And this Rescue funding for police is part of a comprehensive strategy to combat violence in America. I’ve laid out this plan to all the police agencies, and they’re taking a good look at it.
With my budget last year, we increased funding for state and local law enforcement by almost — well, not almost — 29 percent. That included significant investment in Community Oriented Policing Services — the “COPS” program designed to build legitimacy and trust in communities, to address violent crime, to combat hate and extremism.
My budget for next year doubles the investment in community policing — $
573  million, the most in over a decade. And on top of that, it includes $30 billion in new mandatory investments in law enforcement and crime prevention.
During my State of the Union Address, I announced what I called a Unity Agenda that brings the country together to address the big challenges we face.
And one of those included ending the opioid edemic [sic] — epidemic and addressing the mental health crisis. So many, young and old, because of this pandemic, need help. And having a problem — a mental problem — is no different that breaking your arm or your leg. You need invest in systems that provide adequate healthcare, counseling drug treatment, prevention, housing, education, and other social services to those that need it most.
Right now, in most places, you serve your time in prison, you get a bus ticket and 25 bucks, and you end up under the same bridge you got arrested under the first time. They should have access to education and housing. Give them a chance to move beyond where they were.
And I’m committed to investing in mental health services so we have more school counselors, psychologists, and social workers working alongside you.
At the same time, we have to do more to protect our officers’ mental health and emotional well-being. Suicide was the second-highest cause of death for law enforcement officers in 2021, surpassed only by COVID-19.
Last November, I signed laws that extended critical peer counseling and mental health resources for officers, expanded elibilit- — eligibility for benefits for first responders who were disabled in the line of duty. It’s not unusual.
We wonder — we were talking briefly about the impact on the — post-traumatic stress. How many police officers have, multiple times, been put in line and had to do things that they didn’t have to — think they’d have to do?
We recognize it with our military. More people continue to die from post-traumatic stress at home than die in any wars that are going on now — 20 a week. It matters. We face up to it and help these folks — everyone.
There are other areas we need to continue to work on together. Forty percent of all the calls that result in an officer’s death are calls to intervene in a domestic violence dispute. Let me say it again: Forty percent.
You expect officers to have degrees in psychology? Do we expect them to have things that are beyond the capacity of any PhD or doc or anybody else?
That’s why it’s so important to get reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, providing critical resources for law enforcement.
And I want to acknowledge law enforcement’s constructive role in trying to reach an agreement on meaningful policing legislation in Congress. We haven’t gotten there yet, but we must get there to strengthen public trust and public safety.
2021 was one of the strongest years on record when it comes to federal support delivered to state and local law enforcement. But while these are important steps, there’s much more work to be done. I’m committed to being your partner, as I always have.
Let me close with this. Jill and I know how it is when there’s a memorial service for our son, who won the Bronze Star and Conspicuous Service Medal in Iraq. We were proud, but we also — it’s bittersweet, because you remember everything.
I want to thank the families that are here. It really takes courage to show up, because everything comes back. Everything comes back.
A short walk from here at the National Law Enforcement Memorial, there is a quote engraved on the wall. And the quote goes, “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.”
To the families, Jill and I — we have some idea how hard it is. But I promise you: The day will come when the memory of your loved one — you open that closet door and you smell the scent, or you go by that park you used to walk in, or you hear that song. The day will come when it will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes. And through your pain and your will to find a purpose worthy of how they lived, you’ll get through it. But there’s nothing easy about it.
Our hope and prayer is that we as a nation find that purpose as well. May the souls of those who you loved and those with whom you served rest in peace and rise in glory.
May God bless you all. And may God protect our police and our troops. God bless you. (Applause.)
12:46 P.M. EDT