President Clinton Honors America's Top Cops

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 9, 1998


The Rose Garden

10:57 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Tom, I accept the deal. (Laughter.) Thank you for yourwork, on behalf of the law enforcement officers of our country. I want tothankBob Scully as well, the Executive Director of NAPO. Thank you, MadamAttorneyGeneral, for all the support you have given to local law enforcement forsixyears now. I want to thank the Top Cops, their families and their friendswhoare here. And I'd like to thank the members of Congress who are here,supporters of law enforcement all: Senator Robb, Congresswoman Harman,Congresswoman McCarthy, Congressman Rogan and Congressman Torres, who'sherewith some of his family. We're delighted to see all of you.

I'd like to say a special word of appreciation to those of you whobrought your families and the children here as a clear reminder to us ofwhatwe've really come to honor today.

This July, just a mile from here in the Capitol Rotunda, I had thesadresponsibility as President to honor the courage and the sacrifice of thetwoofficers, J.J. Chestnut and Detective John Gibson, who were killed becausetheyliterally threw themselves between an assassin's bullets and innocentbystanders. They gave their lives to defend our freedom's house. The menandwomen we honor here today put on their badges every day, prepared to makethesame kind of sacrifice in their own communities. They are true Americanheroes.They have done astonishing acts of humanity and heroism -- from crossingtheline of fire to rescue wounded fellow officers, to confronting criminalsarmedwith assault weapons and body armor, to nursing a seriously injuredneighborback to health, to breaking in on a person with a bomb that was partiallyactivated and, thank God, did not go off and blow them all away. And oneofthese officers, shot four times himself, including twice -- once in theneck andonce in the head -- maintained his consciousness enough to save the life of acab driver when the person who shot him had a gun at his head.

These stories of all these people are literally breathtaking. Ihopethat the members of the media who are here today who are covering this will findthe time to read the specific cases of those whom we honor today and telltheirstories across America. The story of the brave officer from New Hampshirewhodealt with that terrible tragedy and the story of the officers from NorthHollywood, because of the volume of fire that was involved in theirincident,have been told beyond the borders of their states. But all these storiesdeserve to be told, and I hope they will be, because we honor here today,as Isay again, both the heroism and the humanity that reflect the best of good,professional law enforcement.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to our nation's police officersand forsix years, we have worked, as Tom said and as the Attorney General noted,togive our law enforcement officers thetools they need to succeed at their jobs. We have worked to takeback our streets from crime and violence with a comprehensive planbased on what law enforcement said we should be doing; new penaltieson our books that were tough when they should be tough; efforts tohelp keep young people out of trouble in the first place; efforts tokeep guns out of the hands of criminals; and, most of all, efforts toput 100,000 more police on our streets.

Six years ago there were many Americans who believedthat a rising crime rate was a problem that would be with us always.Today, because of efforts like those whom we honor, we have thelowest level of crime in 25 years. Respect for the law is on therise. Our nation's law enforcement officers are at the very centerof this effort. They are cracking down on gun traffickers. They areworking to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. They are workingwith local school authorities to keep our schools safe and drug free.They are walking the beat and working with residents to prevent crimeand to keep kids out of trouble in the first place.

But as all of them know, and as all of you know, this isnot a problem we can afford to just congratulate ourselves on. Ourcountry is still too violent. We still lose too many children. Westill lose too many police officers.

We have to take some more steps. And today I'd like tojust mention a couple. First, as Tom said so eloquently, all thecynics and the critics were wrong. These police are making adifference in our communities. We are well on our way -- we're undera budget and ahead of schedule in our efforts to put 100,000 policeon the street. Today we are awarding $30 million in new grant moneyto help communities hire more police. This will bring the total ofpolice officers funded by the Crime Bill in 1994 and subsequentappropriations to more than 88,000. We are literally almost 90percent of the way toward meeting our goal.

Second, we know what a difference the Brady backgroundchecks have made to keep illegal guns off our streets. I am pleasedto say that we will give states $40 million to help them computerizethe criminal history records they use to do those background checks-- a simple procedure that has already stopped a quarter of a millionfugitives and felons from purchasing guns and saves who knows howmany lives. These steps will help us to give law enforcement thetools they need.

Last night Congress passed a bill by a large bipartisanmargin that will build on our progress -- a bill I'll sign into lawlater today. It will provide states with more than $1 billion overthe next five years to modernize not only their criminal recordssystems, but also to upgrade their communications and criminalidentification systems. It will include legislation I proposed lastyear at the White House Conference on Child Care the First Lady and Isponsored, to help us build a new electronic information sharingpartnership with state and local law enforcement to keep our childcare and our child care and our elder care systems safe.

I am pleased that Congress has taken this step to givelaw enforcement more tools to make a greater difference. At the sametime, I have to tell you there is one thing going on in Congress thatI am very, very concerned about -- an effort to undermine the veryBrady Law protections that have helped to make our streets and ourpolice safer. The legislation would deny the FBI the full funds itneeds to do the most effective background checks possible, and wouldalso impose undue administrative burdens on the FBI, threatening tobring this vitally important system to halt. When we stood withAmerica's police officers to pass the Brady Law, it was a dramaticstep forward. We cannot take an unacceptable step backward.

This law is working. And all the fears that were raisedabout it -- by people who said good sportsmen would lose their gunsand people would be subject to unconscionable hassles -- it allturned out to be a bunch of bull. All it has done is save lives.Why are we trying to mess with something that works, that saveslives, that makes law enforcement safer, that makes people safer? Itis a terrible mistake. And I ask you all to help me stop it.

Now, this amendment was first proposed last summer, andI said then I would oppose it. So I will say again: I intend tooppose any effort to weaken the Brady Law and to put guns back intothe hands of felons and fugitives. We're going in the rightdirection. Let's don't make that mistake again.

Think of the stories here today. Every one of you outhere represents or came with somebody who is up here today. Now, youjust think about how many stories there would be like the ones we'recelebrating today, and we're sitting here thanking the good Lord thatat least these people are alive. You think how many more storiesthere would be, not only to honor but to mourn, if we were to turnour back on what we've been doing for the last six years.

So I say again, the Congress has made a lot of progress.It has increasingly been bipartisan on this law enforcement issue.Let's not take a step backward.

Now, before I close, let me once again thank the TopCops for their remarkable achievements. And again let me say, I wantto thank all of you who are members of their families. In so manyways, you make these achievements possible. You share the sacrifice,and you share the fear, and sometimes you have to share the loss. Weknow that. Therefore, you have to provide your own special brand ofcourage, and for that we are also profoundly grateful.

We honor all of you -- your strength and your spirit--and from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for what you havedone to make America a better place.

Thank you very much, and God bless you. (Applause.)

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