Tracy A. Henke, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Police Survivors' Conference
May 13, 2005
Thank you, Shirley. I want to thank Shirley for her leadership at COPS—leadership that, I know, you are all very proud of. Shirley's son Brian was killed just a few miles from here. She's taken her tragedy and turned it into a source of strength and inspiration for countless other law enforcement families. We thank her for being a beacon of hope.
I also want to thank Suzie Sawyer for her long-time service. Suzie's been an effective force in advocating for law enforcement families for more than two decades now. Her name is synonymous with compassion and support. She's now a working symbol of the enormous sacrifice made by America's peace officers and of our debt to their service.
And thanks to all of you. I'm honored to be part of this special event and to have the opportunity to show my solidarity with the family members and loved ones of law enforcement officers across the country.
I'm privileged to represent an administration and an Attorney General who so highly value the contributions of public safety officers. President Bush called law enforcement service "a great and essential calling." Indeed, the men and women who respond to that calling represent the qualities that are greatest in all of us, qualities that many can only hope to achieve.
They know, too, that the tremendous sacrifice made by law enforcement officers is shared by their families. Attorney General Gonzales said that the "wives, mothers and daughters, husbands, fathers and sons, who support the fine men and women in law enforcement serve our nation, too." To be sure, you serve it with courage; you serve it with inner strength; and you serve it by placing the security and well-being of your fellow citizens often above your own.
You deserve our support, and we in OJP are working hard to make sure you get it. You know about our Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program—or PSOB. What you may not know is that we're making changes to the program, changes that will make it more responsive to the families and loved ones it's intended to serve.
With the help of the folks in COPS, the Fraternal Order of Police, and other groups, we've found ways to streamline the filing of PSOB claims. We realize that, for survivors, the burden of grief is heavy enough. We will not add to that burden with unnecessary paperwork and administrative demands.
The first thing we're doing is expanding our PSOB database. As we speak, all PSOB claims are being scanned into the database. Soon, every case will be instantly searchable. What this means is that, whenever you have a question about a claim, a benefits representative will be able to pull it up on the spot and tell you what's happening. We hope this will greatly minimize the uncertainty and frustration that come when waiting for answers.
Another improvement is online PSOB forms. By providing a link with the database, which will automatically fill in some of the required information, the electronic forms will make it easier and faster for you and law enforcement agencies to file claims.
We're also working with law enforcement agencies and organizations to make PSOB more accessible. Soon we'll have a PSOB application kit that provides practical details about the program and offers step-by-step guidance on the claims process. The kit is at the printer now, and shortly it will go out to law enforcement departments across the country through national organizations like COPS.
A fourth step we're taking to make PSOB more responsive is to issue new regulations. PSOB has undergone many changes over the years—changes like the Hometown Heroes Act—which have expanded the benefits available to public safety officers and their families. The newly drafted regulations, which incorporate those changes, are finalized, and we expect them to be released soon.
I realize that none of these measures sounds revolutionary. But I assure you that each will contribute to making a program that is more responsive, more efficient, and better tailored to the needs of law enforcement families and colleagues. To us, a PSOB claim represents an officer who made the ultimate sacrifice, so our goal is to review the information as quickly and respectfully as possible and provide an answer.
I recognize that many of your families have more than one member in law enforcement. Some of you come from a long line of public safety officers. You have brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins who serve the peace. You, better than anyone, understand the importance of protecting them. As you know too well, officers take risks every day. That is why we at OJP are doing everything we can to make sure that they are given the protection they need and deserve.
We've been working to improve the effectiveness of that most critical of protective means—body armor. Through its Bulletproof Vest Partnership, BJA has helped law enforcement agencies purchase bullet-resistant armor that meets strict standards. At the same time, our National Institute of Justice is supporting research and development efforts to help ensure the integrity of body armor for future use.
We are marshalling all our resources—funding and research—in an effort to minimize the risks to law enforcement. We believe that they deserve the same level of protection that they so willingly give the public.
We also believe that the families of fallen officers deserve our best care and strongest support. Our agency has a long history of helping those who have experienced tragedy. Our Office for Victims of Crime, or OVC, supports thousands of local victim assistance programs throughout the country. It also helps to train service providers to meet the needs of those who have suffered the death of a loved one.
OVC and the COPS organization share a mission—to lift up those who are hurting. Few understand that mission better than OVC's Director, John Gillis. For those of you who don't know him, John is himself a long-time former police officer whose own daughter was killed by a gang member—for the simple reason that she was the daughter of a law enforcement officer.
John and OVC recently joined forces with COPS to take the lessons that those in the victim services field have learned and share them with those who advocate for law enforcement families. Through a grant to COPS, OVC will support a training session to help COPS chapter representatives become advocates in their own right. The training will take place this July in Missouri.
But the training itself, as useful as it will be, is not the vital element in this partnership. Even more important is the opportunity it provides for forging an alliance—an invaluable alliance between the thousands of people who counsel and speak out for crime victims every day and the law enforcement survivors who want to be there for others.
Mutual understanding and support are powerful resources. Those of you who have lost a loved one know that better than anyone. I hope you'll consider those who serve crime victims your partners and friends.
Because of our close alliance with law enforcement, we in OJP consider the death of every law enforcement officer a personal loss. And when you mourn, we mourn with you.
The pain of loss strikes hard and deep. It can make one feel isolated and alone. You must grieve in your own way and in your own time, but your friends and fellows, here and across the country, remain beside you.
I am grateful to Concerns of Police Survivors for helping you to support one another. Your organization has created a powerful network of hope.
Today, we honor your loved ones who have served so honorably and selflessly. We also honor you. Your sacrifice is one and the same with the sacrifice your loved ones have so nobly made. It is a precious gift to us all. And for it, we are forever grateful.Thank you.