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Obama awards Medals of Valor to hero cops (+video)

The award ceremony comes as police departments are under fire for allegations of police brutality.

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    President Obama presents the Medal of Valor to New York's Johnson City Police Department Patrolman Louis Cioci during a ceremony on Monday. Officer Cioci was one of 13 recipients of the award.
    Evan Vucci/AP
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In an age when police have come under more scrutiny than ever, President Obama urged Americans to remember that for every wayward cop, countless others risk their own lives to serve their communities, as he honored a dozen officers from across the country and an FBI agent for their selfless heroism.

The president awarded the Medal of Valor – the nation's highest honor it can bestow on public service officers – to 13 recipients in a ceremony in the White House's East Wing on Monday. Among the recipients are three Santa Monica, Calif., officers who stopped a shooting rampage that ended near a community college and a suburban Dallas officer who killed two armed men in a gunfight outside a contest for caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

"We can show our respect by listening to you, learning from you, giving you the resources that you need to do your jobs," Mr. Obama said during the ceremony. "Our country needs that right now."

The medal is awarded to officers who "who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect others from harm," according to a statement from the White House. Officers are nominated by chiefs or directors of their departments and recommended by a review board for the award, according to the statement.

This year's recipients and their stories shine a favorable light on the bravery police officers exhibit daily, as police departments contend with allegations of excessive violence, especially against black Americans. The high-profile deaths of unarmed black men, including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner, as well as the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement, have put major police departments on the defensive.

In Chicago, for instance, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration have come under fire for a video it released of a white police officer shooting Laquan McDonald, an African-American teenager, 16 times. On Friday, Mr. Emanuel announced he will abolish the city's Independent Police Review Authority that investigates excessive force allegations, and indicated he will replace it with a civilian agency. Emanuel's announcement comes at the urging of the Police Accountability Task Force he established, which Chicagoans have generally welcomed.  

Even though these apparent misdeeds taint the image of police in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and New York, the Medal of Valor's recipients serve as a reminder of officer's dedication to communities and citizens.

Other recipients include:

  • Miami-Dade Police Officer Mario Gutierrez, who was stabbed multiple times while he subdued a knife-wielding man who tried to set off a massive gas explosion.
  • Patrolman Louis Cioci, of Johnson City, New York, who chased and captured at a crowded hospital a gunman who had just killed a fellow officer. Investigators believe Cioci saved the lives of hospital staff, patients and visitors.
  • Philadelphia police Sgt. Robert Wilson III, who was killed when he drew fire from assailants during an armed robbery, saving store employees and customers.

"It has often been said that the price of freedom is constant vigilance," said Attorney General Lorretta. "Know this: they pay that price on our behalf."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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