- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2016

President Obama honored 13 law enforcement officers for valor Monday, including a Texas police officer who shot two armed Islamist extremists in a gunfight outside a contest for drawing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Traffic Officer Gregory Stevens was working security at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, in May 2015 when he saved lives by stopping a terrorist shooting. The officer shot and killed the two heavily armed suspects who opened fire outside the center.

Several hundred people had gathered at the center for a “Draw Mohammed” contest, intentionally flouting the tenet of some Muslim sects that considers depictions of Islam’s prophet offensive. The two gunmen were Islamic State supporters who had been radicalized while living in the U.S.

In the Medal of Valor ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Obama praised the group as “the men and women who run toward danger.”

“Had it not been for their bravery, we likely would have lost a lot of people,” Mr. Obama said. “They stood up to dangerous individuals brandishing assault weapons, handguns and knives. Each of them will tell you, very humbly, the same thing — they were just doing their jobs.”

At Monday’s ceremony Mr. Obama announced the reauthorization of a program that helps state and local law enforcement agencies buy bulletproof vests, following a four-year lapse in funding.

“Our nation has a responsibility to support those who serve and protect us and keep our streets safe,” he said.

The legislation will provide $25 million a year through 2020 to the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant program, which has helped outfit officers across the nation with more than 1.2 million pieces of ballistic-resistant soft body armor since it was established in 1999. The program allows the Justice Department to offer matching grants to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to purchase or upgrade their body armor.

The last authorization bill for the program expired in 2012.

Reauthorization of the bill comes at a time that law enforcement officers have been increasingly concerned with an uptick in fatal shootings of police officers.

A slew of fatal shootings at the beginning of 2016 drove up the number of gun-related line-of-duty deaths, with six officers and deputies fatally shot during one week in February alone.

While the total number of officers’ line-of-duty deaths is down 8 percent so far in 2016, with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reporting 36 fatalities, the number of firearms-related deaths remains up. As of Monday, 18 of the 36 fatalities were firearms-related, accounting for a 38 percent increase over the same time last year.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which has lobbied for reauthorization of the program, credits bulletproof vests with saving thousands of officers’ lives.

Officials first began documenting official “saves,” or shootings in which an officer would have likely died if not for wearing a bulletproof vest, in 1975. Since then the National FOP said more than 3,100 officers have been certified as saved by their body armor.

“Six officers have had their lives saved since mid-October thanks to the [bulletproof vest program]. How many programs can quantify their success so starkly?” said FOP President Chuck Canterbury in a statement issued last week that went on to tout the 3,100 lives saved in recent decades.

The signing of the bulletproof vest act and Monday’s ceremony was timed to coincide with National Police Week, when thousands of law enforcement officers travel to the nation’s capital to pay tribute to fallen colleagues.

Among the other law enforcement officers honored Monday was Philadelphia Police Officer Sgt. Robert Wilson III, who received the award posthumously. He died from a gunshot wound as he helped to protect workers and customers in a store during an armed robbery.

The others awarded the Medal of Valor were:

⦁ Officer Mario Gutierrez of the Miami-Dade, Florida, Police Department, who was stabbed multiple times while subduing a knife-wielding assailant who attempted to set off a massive gas explosion that could have resulted in multiple fatalities.

⦁ Patrolman Louis Cioci of the Johnson City, New York, Police Department. After witnessing the murder of his fellow officer, Patrolman Cioci pursued and apprehended the gunman at a crowded hospital, saving the lives of employees, patients and visitors.

⦁ Officers Jason Salas and Robert Sparks, and Capt. Raymond Bottenfield, all of the Santa Monica, California, Police Department, for their courage and composure in ending a deadly shooting rampage at Santa Monica College.

⦁ Maj. David Huff of the Midwest City, Oklahoma, Police Department, who saved the life of a 2-year-old girl after negotiations deteriorated with a man holding the child captive at knifepoint.

⦁ Officer Donald Thompson of the Los Angeles Police Department, who suffered second-degree burns while pulling an unconscious man to safety from a car moments before it became engulfed in flames.

⦁ Officer Coral Walker of the Omaha, Nebraska, Police Department, who single-handedly incapacitated a man who had killed and injured multiple victims on a shooting spree.

⦁ Officer Niel Johnson of the North Miami, Florida, Police Department, who apprehended a gunman who had shot a Miami police officer and two bystanders with an assault rifle.

⦁ Special Agent Tyler Call of the FBI, who, while off-duty, helped to rescue a woman from her ex-husband at gunpoint.

⦁ Deputy Joey Tortorella of the Niagara County, New York, Sheriff’s Office, who subdued a gunman who had shot and wounded his parents inside their home. The deputy’s action protected students at a nearby elementary school.

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