WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Obama honored several dozen law enforcement officers today after they were recognized by a national police order for acts of courage or exemplary service. Standing in the spring sun of the White House's rose garden, the president told the officers and their assembled families he had looked forward to the event to simply say "thank you."
"They don't ask for a lot of credit," the president said of the nation's police officers. "They don't go to work planning to be heroes. They just do their jobs."
The officers were in town for the annual awards ceremony of the National Association of Police Organizations. Since 1994, NAPO has run its "Top Cops" program to pay tribute to officers who have gone "above and beyond the call of duty."
The president said he understood that each time an officer leaves their home, it may be "the day that you've spent your entire career training for."
"For the men and women standing behind me, America's Top Cops, that day came. And when it did, they were ready. They didn't flinch. They didn't back off," he said. "There are people who are alive today only because of their courage."
After thanking the officers for their service, the president nodded to recent state and federal budget cuts that have led to fewer officers on the job in some localities. Obama said "those of us in office" had a responsibility to keep as many police on the street as possible, for the public's safety as well as the welfare of the officers.
"Those of you wearing the shield, you are safer when there's more of you because you have each others' backs," he said.
Vice President Joe Biden introduced the president today. After touting the recent dedication of national communications frequencies for first responders, Biden urged lawmakers to support the efforts of police unions in maintaining collective bargaining rights.
"To say you've earned those rights would be the understatement of the day," Biden said. "And they will not be taken away as long as we can do anything about that, or anyone else who cares."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and NAPO President Tom Nee were also in attendance. Nee is an appointee to the Obama administration's Homeland Security Advisory Council.
NAPO says they sift through hundreds of cases each year running up to these awards, selecting top stories from each of the 50 states for honorable mentions. An independent panel then narrows it down to representatives of a final 10 states to bestow with the title of Top Cop. Law enforcement from the local to federal level are eligible for the honor, but must be nominated by other officers.
Among this year's crop of honorees were a duo of Los Angeles Police Department officers who stopped a deranged gunman's rampage through Hollywood. A unit of New York Police Department members were also awarded for their daring rescue of West Point military cadets who had become stranded on the side of a cliff in high winds.
In all, 34 police received the Top Cops recognition this year.
"I'm sure that many are, even now, thinking of a partner or a teammate who fell in the line of duty," Obama said to the officers. "So we honor their memories today. We honor all those who have put their lives on the line in order to protect their fellow citizens."
This is the fourth year Obama has hosted NAPO honorees at the White House, following a precedent started during Bill Clinton's presidency.