President Joe Biden gives remarks during the 40th annual national peace officers memorial service on the west front of the United States Capitol in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 16, 2021. The President and first lady honored the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2019 and 2020. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 16 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden said that being a cop today is "harder than it's ever been" in a speech Saturday that he used to call for additional support and reforms for what he characterized as an increasingly burdened and dangerous profession.
Biden made the remarks to hundreds of officers assembled outside the Capitol as part of the 40th Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service.
"We expect you to be people ready to stand in the way and take a bullet for us," he said. "We expect you to be able to track down the bad guys. We expect you to be able to be the psychologist who talks the couple that are having a violent confrontation together to step back. We expect you to be everything. We expect everything of you, and it's beyond the capacity of anyone to meet the tall expectations."
During the 22-minute speech, he thanked local police for thwarting the Jan. 6 insurrection where rioters attempted to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election.
Biden said he had "no hesitation" awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Capitol police and D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department. He acknowledged that 150 officers were injured in the attack and five died in its aftermath.
"Because of you, democracy survived," he said.
Calling the toll on the profession "too heavy," Biden said that 2020 had been the deadliest year of record for law enforcement. He told those gathered that "your loss is also America's loss, and your pain is America's pain."
Biden used the speech to call attention to reforms and increased support he said is needed to keep the professional viable. He pointed to funding in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act Biden signed earlier this year to hire more officers.
The 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked waves of protest and calls for sweeping reform. Although a congressional reform effort is faltering, Biden thanked the Fraternal Order of Police for working toward an agreement on "meaningful reforms."
He said more needs to be done.
"We're waking up to the notion that unless we change the environment in which the job can be done," he said. "We're going to have trouble having enough women and men come forward to want to do the job."
Biden called for increased investments in training and community policing, as well as local violence-prevention programs. Police shouldn't be expected to do "every job under the sun" and should have adequate partners and resources, said Biden. He said improved mental health services, as well as health care, housing and social services would prevent "discord."
Responding to police who said they felt "outgunned," Biden called for stricter gun control and "red flag" laws that allow courts to temporarily seize firearms from people in crisis.
Throughout the speech, Biden attempted to relate to the crowd, noting the loss of two of his children, and his blue-collar roots growing up in Pennsylvania where he said the only professions to aspire to were priest, firefighter or policeman.
"I had to settle for this," he said to laughter.