WASHINGTON - President Obama honored several dozen of the nation's top law enforcement officials at the White House today, saying they "embody America at its best and at its bravest."
"We know that when we need you most, you'll be ready to dash into danger, to protect our lives, even if it means putting your lives on the line," he said as the National Association of Police Organization's TOP COPS Award recipients stood behind him during an event in the East Room of the White House. "That's what these folks are all about. That's what the men and women standing behind me have proven - their heart, their courage, their dedication."
As he paid tribute to the nation's top police officers, the president also pushed for "common-sense steps" on gun control to ensure the safety of those officers in the line of duty.
"We also need to take some common-sense steps that protect our rights, protect our children, protect officers in the line of duty by making it harder for dangerous criminals to get their hands on lethal weapons,' he said.
Obama praised the work of law enforcement officials and first responders during the attacks and investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings last month.
"Just a few weeks ago obviously in Boston our entire country saw once again the strong stuff these men and women in uniform are made of. Police officers, first responders, who were running towards explosives, not knowing if there was something more on the way. Law enforcement from different agencies, from different parts of the country working together as one united team to identify suspects and bring them to justice," he said. "And in a moment that few of us will ever forget, the citizens of Watertown, Massachusetts, lining the streets to cheer on and high-five and hug the officers as they're heading home after a job well done."
The honorees came from police departments from across the country - from Oak Creek, Wis., where police officers responded to the deadly shooting at the Sikh temple last summer, to New York City. The president highlighted several officers' heroic acts, including that of Det. Ivan Marcano of the New York Police Department, who was off-duty and on a "date night" with his girlfriend when he was shot in the chest while trying to stop a burglary.
"He got out of his girlfriend's car to stop them and was shot point blank in the chest, a bullet inches from his heart. But his story doesn't end there," the president said. "As his girlfriend was driving him to the hospital, I'm sure not very happy with him, by total coincidence, they ran into the shooter's getaway car. So what does Det. Marcano do? He jumps out of the car, he's been shot, keeps pressure on his chest with his left hand, holding a service weapon with his right, he runs after the suspects. He took one of them down, which led to the capture of the others.
"He wasn't on the clock when any of this happened. This was his date night," he added.
Since 1994, NAPO has honored some of the nation's outstanding law enforcement officials who have gone beyond the call of duty with the annual TOP COPS Awards, which are to be officially presented Sunday during a ceremony in Washington.
As he praised the cops for their work, the president made a call for the country to take the time to thank those officers who risk their lives to protect them.
"When you see a police officer, you meet an officer's family, let them know how much you appreciate it. It's the least we can do for the men and women who give us so much and help keep us safe," he said.