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Politics & Government

Obama Awards Medal Of Valor To 13 Police Officers

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Obama awarded medals of valor to 13 law enforcement officers today. All of them risked their lives to save others. Some of them used deadly force at a time when police tactics are under heightened scrutiny. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: David Huff had less than a minute to make his decision. Huff's a major with the Midwest City Police Department in Oklahoma. Three years ago, he was called to a Walmart where a 2-year-old girl had been taken hostage by a mentally disturbed man. When negotiations broke down, the man held a knife to the girl's neck and began counting off a 60-second deadline.

DAVID HUFF: And all I can describe it as is intense. There was just no way I was going to let that little child get hurt.

HORSLEY: Huff shot and killed the hostage taker. The little girl was unharmed. For his uncommon poise, Huff was one of 13 law officers decorated today at the White House. President Obama presented medals to those who showed exceptional courage in protecting human life.

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BARACK OBAMA: Had it not been for their bravery, we likely would've lost a lot of people - mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends and loved ones. Thankfully, they are still with their families today because these officers were where they needed to be most.

HORSLEY: Officers honored today faced a variety of threats - heavily armed gunmen, a burning car, a man who tried to set fire to a fuel tank. In each case, the president says officers risked their own safety to save others.

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OBAMA: Each of them will tell you, very humbly, the same thing. They were just doing their jobs. They were doing what they had to do, what they were trained to do.

HORSLEY: One of the medals was awarded posthumously to Robert Wilson of the Philadelphia Police Department. He was trying to buy his son a birthday present when he found himself in the middle of an armed robbery. Wilson was shot and killed while protecting other customers. That was 14 months ago, but it's still fresh to his grandmother Constance Wilson.

CONSTANCE WILSON: It's like it just happened today. I mean, we always think about it, and we cry. A big hole was put in my heart when he lost his life. But he loved his job, and he did what he was trained to do.

HORSLEY: The White House was eager to celebrate these examples of heroic police work at a time when officers across the country are under the microscope for suspected use of excessive force, especially in minority communities.

Last week, FBI Director James Comey said once again he's heard anecdotal stories of police being less aggressive in pursuing crime for fear of being caught on a viral video that shows them in an unflattering light. The White House says there's no evidence that's a widespread problem, but Obama says he'll keep working with police and community leaders in an effort to rebuild trust.

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OBAMA: Our country needs that right now.

HORSLEY: Ultimately, Obama says improving relations between police and the public will make cops' jobs safer. The president also signed a bill today providing grant money to help outfit more police officers with bulletproof vests. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.