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Public Statements

Supporting First Responders and Keeping Our Communities Safe

Location: Des Moines, IA

As Prepared for Delivery

January 03, 2004

Des Moines, IA

Remarks by John Kerry

I am honored that today the leadership of the rank and file of Des Moines firefighters and police officers have pledged to stand with me in this campaign. And I pledge that, if I'm elected, I will stand with firefighters and police officers all over America every day that I am in the White House.

I will go to the Oval Office every morning knowing that my job is to help you do yours - so that together, we can make America safer, stronger, and more secure.

Two years ago, President Bush went to New York and stood at Ground Zero and gave local responders his commitment. I wish the President would go back now and ask local defenders whether the commitment has been kept. Let me make it clear: We shouldn't be choosing tax breaks for billionaires over cops for Des Moines. And we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Iraq while closing them in America.

Today, fire departments only have enough radios for half their firefighters and almost two-thirds of firehouses are short-staffed. Our local responders face additional duties and challenges in protecting our homeland security. And with the U.S. military relying heavily on brave Iowa soldiers to help fight the war in Iraq, our homeland defenders have never been spread so thin.

Americans have had enough of politicians of who are firefighters' and police officers' best friends when the bagpipes are wailing but walk away when the flags return to full staff. We've had enough of those who offer words without actions, tough rhetoric and a tin pot record.

If we are truly to honor those that fell on September 11th - and all the others who have fallen in the line of duty - then let's give all our local defenders the tools and training to protect us - and the respect and rewards that you deserve.

That starts with providing our police officers with the support they need to protect our public safety. Nothing George Bush has done made it harder for communities to fight crime than his ending our commitment to put 100,000 cops on the beat. I led the fight to put these police officers into our nation's communities where they can make an impact and stop crimes before they happen. And it worked. We saw record drops in violent crime all over America. We got drugs off the streets. Criminals were on the run and communities were able to live in peace because of these brave officers. We owe them our thanks and our support.

But George Bush has slashed funding for these police officers. Our police officers are fighting a two-front war - battling common criminals on one hand and making our homeland secure from attack on the other. Taking cops off the beat is exactly the wrong thing to do. We need to restore funding to the COPS program instead of retreating from the war on crime.

And to make sure that America matches the courage shown by the firefighters who protect our communities every day, I have also proposed the Father Judge Fund - so that we can also provide for 100,000 new professional firefighters and the training and equipment they need.

We don't send soldiers to war without the equipment and weapons to keep them safe and win the battle. And we shouldn't do any less for the men and women who wear a different uniform as foot soldiers of the war on terrorism here at home. They deserve our support, and they also deserve overtime pay for the extra time they put in on the job. George Bush has proposed regulations that would eliminate overtime "rights" for many local responders. This is wrong, and when I am President, it won't happen

Since September 11th, politicians have rallied to the cause of public safety. For me, it's been the commitment of a lifetime. Long before I was ever elected to public office, I spent years as a county prosecutor back home in Massachusetts. We put took on organized crime and put the Number Two mob boss in New England behind bars. And we created one of the nation's first rape crisis crime units - at a time when violence against women was a subject that was often swept under the rug.

I am proud of our record, and I will continue to fight for our public safety and our homeland security every day of my Administration.

President Bush says we can't afford to fund homeland security. I say we can't afford not to. The Bush Administration is tinkering while the clock on homeland security is ticking.

The most basic responsibility of our government is to provide for the common defense. When I am President, we will have a real plan for homeland security that keeps Americans informed and provides our local responders with the resources they need to keep us prepared.

The challenges we face in this dangerous world also demand a President who knows what he's saying and a foreign policy that can make America safer and stronger. George Bush's go-it-alone foreign policy is wrong - and it will end when I am President.

But Democrats need to offer something better than that. Howard Dean's comment that America's not safer with Saddam Hussein behind bars landed him in hot water. Now he's trying to get out of it by claiming the Orange Alert has proved him right.

But Americans won't be fooled into confusing the War on Terror with the capture of Saddam Hussein. I think most Americans would agree that having Saddam Hussein behind bars has made us safer. It's George Bush who tries to trick the American people into confusing Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. And Democrats owe it to America to be better than that.

Americans deserve a candidate for President who Americans can trust to protect our security both at home and abroad. As your President, I will fulfill that promise, and I will keep America's promise to our local responders.

At any moment at any day, firefighters and police officers can confront sudden danger or disaster. Nothing will ever change that. And when that "last alarm" tolls, it tells of those who are left behind, it tells of hearts broken, and families in pain. But its ring also reminds us of heroes who did their duty, saved innocent lives, served their country and starred down fear.

One year ago on this very day, the first law enforcement officer killed nationwide in 2003 was Deputy Dennis McElderry of the Davis County, Iowa Sheriff's Office. This high price of service is paid annually by hundreds of families and communities.

Those heroes live on permanently - in our pride in them and in the memories of friends and family. But we owe them even more. We owe them a nation that ensures they did not die in vain. We owe them an America that honors their sacrifice by making sure that their brothers and sisters who are left behind get the support they need to stand ready and answer the call.

Thank you.

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