(WASHINGTON) — More than 300 law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty were honored on Monday at a naming ceremony in the nation’s capital.
In an annual tradition, the names of the fallen were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall, accompanied by a candlelight vigil and musical tributes.
In remarks to an estimated 20,000 officers, families and supporters, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the dead represented “the best of our nation.”
“Heroes, patriots, and role models who did not flinch at the first sign of danger,” she said. “But like all law enforcement acted to protect us even though their lives were on the line.”
The secretary cited the massive multi-agency response to Hurricane Sandy, the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, and last month’s bombing attack at the Boston Marathon as indicative of extraordinary community from the “thin blue line.”
“Generation after generation, officers in law enforcement put the uniform on and head out into the world to protect us. They know the risks they face, and tonight we ensure they also know our gratitude and blessings,” Napolitano said.
Behind her on stage sat Boston Police Department Superintendent Willie Gross, Chief Ed Deveau of Watertown, Mass., and State Police Superintendent Timothy Alven.
Napolitano was followed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, whose own brother is a retired lawman with the New York-New Jersey Port Authority. Holder said that although police deaths were at their lowest point since the 1950s, the Obama administration would continue to push to close budgetary gaps for police agencies, keep more officers on the street, and protect officers.
“It means working with Congress to overcome recent setbacks and to enact common-sense measures to prevent and to reduce gun violence,” he said. “To keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those not legally allowed to possess them, and to ensure that every time someone attempts to buy a gun in this country a full background check is performed.”
Holder also said the administration would introduce new measures this year to streamline federal Public Safety Officers Benefits Programs, including management systems allowing families to check the status of their claims online and reducing paperwork required to support a claim.
“The era of red tape in this vital program is over,” he said.
Gracing an outdoor park in downtown Washington, the National Law Enforcement Memorial wall bears over 19,000 men and women inscribed into it from all 50 states, along with federal and military agencies.
In all, 321 new names were added Monday night, including 120 who died in 2012 — the remainder comprised of officers whose historical contributions had only recently surfaced.
Monday’s dedication falls in the middle of National Police Week in the District of Columbia: seven days aimed at honoring the contributions of law enforcement. Tens of thousands of officers and their supporters from around the country converge on the city annually for a wide range of events from a bagpipe band march to a special charity game by the Washington Nationals baseball team.
This is the 25th year of festivities, which first started as a proclamation by then-President John F. Kennedy.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Matt McFarland, CNN
Tom Kludt and Jeremy Diamond, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Nora Hart, CNN