Flanked by the nation's "Top Cops" and praised for his own law enforcement efforts, President Clinton announced new funds Friday to strengthen the Brady handgun law and bring the nation closer to his goal of 100,000 more police on the beat.
"We are well on our way -- we're under budget and ahead of schedule," the president declared in a Rose Garden ceremony.
Another 428 police officers, hired with the help of $27.4 million in Justice Department grants to 151 police agencies, will raise to 88,500 the number of new hires under Clinton's 1993 community policing drive. The hiring of 100,000 over six years was authorized in the 1994 crime bill that became law late that year.
"All the cynics and the critics were wrong," Clinton said. "These police are making a difference in our communities."
Clinton appeared with uniformed officers named this year's "Top Cops" by the National Association of Police Organizations.
NAPO chief Thomas Scotto, who preceded Clinton on the program, offered an endorsement of the president, who is battling impeachment proceedings and calls for his resignation:
"Mr. President, I will make you a deal. You keep doing the work of the American people, putting more police on our streets ... and you can count on NAPO to come back every year with our Top Cops and show you firsthand how your efforts are making a difference."
Clinton replied with a handshake and a smile. "Tom, I accept the deal."
As Congress worked to complete action on appropriation bills funding the government, Mr. Clinton took Republicans to task for trying to weaken the Brady law, which requires a five-day waiting period for people trying to buy handguns so that background checks can be run.
"The legislation would deny the FBI the full funds it needs to do the most effective background checks possible and would also impose undue administrative burdens on the FBI, threatening to bring this vitally important system to a halt," Clinton said.
Critics' forecasts that the Brady law would hassle legal gun owners and deny hunters their sport "all turned out to be a bunch of bull," said Clinton, who also announced $41 million in Justice grants to help states computerize the criminal records used in background checks.
"Why are we trying to mess with something that works, that saves lives, that makes law enforcement safer, that makes people safer?," he asked. "It is a terrible mistake."
Even as Clinton used his Rose Garden salute to police as a platform to air the legislative dispute, he beseeched the news media to focus on the 34 officers from 10 jurisdictions being honored.
"From crossing the line of fire to rescue wounded fellow officers, to confronting criminals armed with assault weapons and body armor, to nursing a seriously injured neighbor back to health ... the stories of all these people are literally reathtaking," he said.
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