President Biden paid his respects to the families of fallen police officers Saturday, invoking his personal experience of losing two children.
Mr. Biden made his remarks in front of the U.S. Capitol at the 40th annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, which honored 491 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
The president zeroed in on his personal tragedies of dealing with the death of his infant daughter, Naomi, in 1972 and his oldest son, Beau, in 2015 who died of brain cancer at the age of 46.
“No parent should have to bury their child,” Mr. Biden said. “I lost a baby daughter in an accident. I lost a brave son who died of cancer after coming home from a year in Iraq. You know what? What you’ve gone through is hard.”
Mr. Biden zeroed in on Beau Biden’s tenure as the former Delaware attorney general, referring to him several times as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.
The president also touched on the challenges law enforcement face today, pitching his vision for reforms he suggested would improve community relationships and lessen the burden of the job for officers.
“Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it’s ever been,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re waking up to the notion, unless we change the environment in which the job could be done, we’re going to have trouble.”
Mr. Biden promoted enhanced community policing, more investment into mental health resources, and cracking down on gun violence as his law enforcement priorities.
The president also noted that he wanted to make it easier for states to adopt red flag laws, which would allow a family member to petition a court to temporarily remove a firearm from someone deemed dangerous.
While speaking in front of the Capitol, Mr. Biden also made a reference to the Jan. 6 riot, thanking Capitol Police and District of Columbia officers for their service.
“Because of these men and women, we avoided a catastrophe,” he said.
Mr. Biden’s relationship with law enforcement has been a point of contention in his administration, as crime rates surge and police morale overall remains low.
Travis Parker, a police sergeant for the Columbus Police Department in Ohio, said having the president at the event signaled how important the memorial was.
“I think that shows the families the importance of the job that they’re loved ones we’re doing and their important role in society,” Mr. Parker said. “That’s the highest office in the land, so I think that’s significant.”
Miguel Lugo, an officer for the Atlanta Police Department, agreed with Mr. Biden’s idea to implement more community policing to strengthen relationships with the public.
Forces across the country have sought to foster deeper connections after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, which sparked national calls for reform.
Mr. Lugo, who is a Hispanic and multicultural liaison for the force, noted the job of an officer has changed in the past year, and that it’s become increasingly harder to build trust within communities.
“It has changed a lot,” Mr. Lugo said of the job. “It’s like we take one step forward and three steps back, regarding that we have to work more to engage our communities, and to gain the trust that we have lost in the community.”
William Knox, a captain at the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, attended the memorial to honor his colleague who was shot on duty in late 2019 and succumbed to his injuries last year.
“It’s just emotional. It’s kind of hard to explain,” Mr. Knox said. “It’s good to see our colleagues in different areas, but it’s sad that we have to see each other at an event like this to honor those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
In his speech, Mr. Biden acknowledged he didn’t personally know any of the nearly 500 fallen officers named in this year’s program, but asserted to the crowd that he understood them.
“Although I didn’t know them personally, I know you. I know you,” Mr. Biden told the crowd.
The president cited his personal friendships with officers in the Wilmington, Delaware Police Department, his experience serving as the former chairman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and concluded again by referring to his personal bouts of grief.
“I know there are no words, no memorial, to fill that void, that black hole in your chest so many of you feel,” Mr. Biden said. “Well, I promise you. The day will come when the memory of your loved one brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. That’s when you know you’re going to make it.”
The annual ceremony, hosted by the National Fraternal Order of Police and the National Auxillary, was canceled last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
First lady Jill Biden, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also attended the service.