BUSH honors fallen police officers

Tuesday, May 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ While flags at the White House flew at half-staff, President Bush honored fallen police officers Tuesday in what has become an annual Capitol Hill ceremony.

``At times, law enforcement must seem like the most thankless work you could ever do,'' Bush told uniformed officers at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. ``But I'm here to tell you that yours is one of the great callings and your country thanks you for it.''

Bush paid his first visit as president to the memorial honoring police slain in the line of duty dating since the 1790s. Bush's father dedicated the memorial 10 years ago.

The service memorialized police officers who died while on duty last year _ more than 150 officers, or a 12.7 percent increase over the previous year, according to police organizations.

The names of more than 15,000 officers have been chiseled into the marble memorial, including that of Isaac Smith, a deputy sheriff in Fordham, N.Y. _ now a part of the Bronx borough _ who was shot to death while breaking up a drunken fracas at a local inn on May 17, 1792.

``For each name there was a family left behind,'' Bush said Tuesday. ``We must never forget how suddenly their pain comes and how long it lingers.''

The event provided Bush with another platform to tout ``Project Safe Neighborhoods,'' his new proposal to hire more prosecutors to pursue gun cases. The president unveiled the plan Monday at a police ceremony in Philadelphia.

The project involves hiring 113 new assistant U.S. attorneys and 600 state and local prosecutors to work with police agencies and community groups on gun cases.

Bush's plan also calls for $44 million to improve criminal record-keeping so convicts cannot legally buy guns; nearly $29 million to expand ballistics testing so illegal guns and ammunition can be traced; and $19 million for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for a youth gun interdiction initiative.

The plan was decried by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit gun-safety group, as doing too little to prevent gun crimes. Joe Sudbay, the center's public policy director, called the Bush plan a ``prosecution-only approach'' and urged the president to expand current background checks for gun purchases from licensed dealers to include all gun purchases, such as those between individuals or at private sales.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush does support closing that loophole, and wants to work with Congress on how to do that.

``His view is we need to have an instant background check at the gun shows,'' Fleischer said, adding that Bush's proposal to put more money into updating state records would help facilitate that. ``Beyond that, he's prepared to work with Congress on the other issues involved.''