WASHINGTON — Law enforcement officers are the “thin blue line between civilization and chaos,” President Donald Trump said yesterday before a sea of uniformed men and women assembled at the Capitol to honor police lives lost in the line of duty.
Trump said he envisions a country completely devoid of crime and cited MS-13 street gang as a scourge, speaking to frequent applause at the annual National Peace Officers Memorial Day service.
“Freedom includes the right to be free — and I mean totally free — from crime and from violence,” he said. “MS-13 is going to be gone from our streets very soon, believe me.”
Authorities say the MS-13 gang, which has a national presence, is responsible for a series of savage slayings in Brentwood and Central Islip, with the local body count of victims in incidents linked or thought to be related to gangs rising to 11 in the last year.
The president, who has enjoyed broad support from police, received standing ovations when he was introduced and when he took the stage.
“We love you, Donald!” a man in the audience shouted at one point.
Earlier Monday in the Oval Office, Trump signed a proclamation noting that he has directed the Justice Department to “better prevent and prosecute acts of violence” against police. He spoke about the 118 officers who died last year in the line of duty.
Trump was joined by members of the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department, the New Jersey State Police and the Phoenix Police Department, all of which lost officers last year.
In the shadow of the Capitol, he stressed that he believes police risking their lives deserve more respect because they have been subject to vilification.
“It is our duty as a people and as a nation to prove worthy of their sacrifice,” Trump said of the fallen. “That begins with showing our police the appreciation they have earned a thousand times over.”
Vice President Mike Pence had said Trump makes “no apologies” for his unwavering backing of police, and Trump added: “I will always support the incredible men and women of law enforcement as much as you have always supported me.”
The president said he has witnessed, as a New Yorker, how the NYPD keeps communities safe. He spoke also about the sacrifice of officers during the 9/11 terror attacks.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill has criticized the Trump administration for a budget proposal that O’Neill said would eradicate counterterrorism funding and for a Justice Department news release that called the NYPD “soft on crime” when it comes to illegal immigration.
But the leader of the sergeants union has said Trump has the support of rank-and-file NYPD members.
The White House was lit Monday in blue to honor fallen police officers, and flags were flown at half-staff.