President Barack Obama honored police officers killed in the line of duty Friday – and consoled their grieving families, saying they must be remembered as "heroes because that's what they are."
"We cannot erase every darkness or danger from the duty you've chosen. We can offer you the support you need to be safer," Obama said Friday during the 34th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on the West Lawn of the Capitol, the Voice of America reports.
The president also spoke with still-grieving relatives, including Pei Xia Chen, widow of New York City Police Detective Wenjian Liu, who was killed in an ambush last December along with partner Rafael Ramos, the New York Post
The comments come in the wake of an alarming rise in police fatalities, the VOA notes.
In 2013, 27 law enforcement officers were feloniously slain on the job; last year, there were 51, according to preliminary statistics released this week by the FBI, the VOA reports.
Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, told the VOA that the 89 percent spike from 2013 to 2014 is of "great concern" to his organization, which represents about 240,000 rank-and-file officers, as well as police groups nationwide – and attributed the spike to a "larger number of intentional attacks, of ambushes, of occasions where there's a traffic stop and the person stopped immediately shoots gunfire at the police, or [cases of] deliberate assassinations."
Johnson included among those incidents the revenge slayings last December of Liu and Ramos, who were ambushed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley after he had posted on social media: "I'm putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours . . . Let's take 2 of theirs."
The reference was to the chokehold death of Eric Garner
at the hands of police in New York City.
At the same time, police are coming under more scrutiny because of brutality allegations, including those surrounding the death last month of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, who died after suffering fatal injuries while in police custody.
Six officers have since been indicted in Gray's death on charges including second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
But Johnson told the VOA he was especially incensed about the accusations against police after the Michael Brown shooting.
"The accusation keeps bringing to mind -- hands up, don't shoot -- that this teenager in Missouri had his hands up and was surrendering and the officer just executed him for no reason or for a racist reason, and none of that was true," Johnson said.
On Friday, Obama addressed the tensions between police and communities, and vowed to try to "work harder" to heal the rift .
"We can do everything we have to do to combat the poverty that plagues too many communities in which you have served," he said. "We can work harder as a nation to heal rifts that exist in some places between law enforcement and the people you risk your lives to protect."
In a video released for National Police Week, FBI Director James Comey also noted that more work needed to be done.
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"I think it's very, very important for all of us that we do our absolute best to try to see clearly those people we serve and to look for opportunities to have them see us -- see the nature and character of the people who are in law enforcement and why we do the work that we do," Comey said.
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