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May 15, 12:21 PM EDT

Obama calls for healing of rifts between police, communities


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- With police under increasing scrutiny after the highly publicized deaths of black suspects, President Barack Obama called on Americans Friday to honor law enforcement "heroes" by working harder to heal rifts with communities they serve.

Obama offered his gratitude for the sacrifices of police during an annual memorial service for fallen police on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. He said the law enforcement deaths are a too common reminder that of the risk inherent in their jobs.

"We cannot erase every darkness or danger from the duty that you've chosen," he said. "We can offer you the support you need to be safe. We can make the communities you care about and protect safer as well. We can make sure that you have the resources you need to do your job. We can do everything we have to do to combat the poverty that plagues too many communities in which you have served. We can work harder as a nation to heal rifts that exist some places between law enforcement and the people you risk your lives to protect."

Obama did not mention any of the black men who died recently after police interactions, triggering a series of racially-charged protests across the country. Instead, the president spoke of some of the 131 officers who died last year in the line of duty.

He singled out Travis County senior deputy Jessica Hollis, who was swept away by Texas floodwaters. And he spoke of Officer Kevin Jordan of the Griffin County, Georgia, who was shot while working as an off-duty security guard at a Waffle House.

"We hold them up as heroes because that's what they are," Obama said. "It takes a special kind of courage to be a police officer."

A proclamation signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the entire week as Police Week. Every president since George H.W. Bush has spoken at the memorial services.

The 34rd annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service, sponsored by the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police and the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary, comes amid shrinking budgets for law enforcement across the country.

"Mr. President it's a difficult time for law enforcement," Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in introducing Obama. "Our hope is that our nation will stand up for law enforcement and be thankful that we've kept them safe."

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