Chicago, Oct 28: President Barack Obama defended police officers who have come under scrutiny like never before, saying the men and women who risk their lives to provide security are wrongly "scapegoated" for failing to deal with broader problems that lead people to commit crimes.
Unemployment, poor education, inadequate drug treatment and lax gun laws are not the responsibility of police officers, Obama said in remarks to the International Association of Chief of Police, which held its annual meeting in the president's Chicago hometown.
He blamed the news media's tendency "to focus on the sensational" for helping to drive a wedge between police officers and a public they take an oath to protect and serve. He called for rebuilding the trust that once existed between them.
Obama delivered his speech amid a roiling national debate about officers' treatment of potential criminal suspects following the deaths of unarmed black men in New York, Missouri and elsewhere by police.
"Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and criminal justice system," the president said.
"I know that you do your jobs with distinction no matter the challenges you face. That's part of wearing a badge." "But we can't expect you to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren't willing to face or do anything about," he said.
Obama also sought to avoid making the debate about police against communities. "I reject any narrative that seeks to divide police and the communities that they serve â I reject the story line that says, when it comes to public safety, there's an 'us' and 'them,'" Obama said.
He said it's a "narrative that too often gets served up to us by news stations seeking ratings, or tweets seeking retweets, or political candidates seeking some attention."
Obama opened his remarks with a tribute to slain New York City police officer Randolph Holder as hundreds of officers streamed into his wake.
Holder, 33, died last week after being shot in the head by a man he and his partner were chasing. The officers had responded to a call of shots fired and a bicycle stolen at gunpoint.
A suspect is in custody on charges of murder and robbery in Holder's killing. Obama praised the Guyana native as emblematic of many US police officers who put their lives on the line every day.
Before the speech, Obama met with the families of law enforcement officers who were killed on the job, according to the White House.
He also met with relatives of victims of Chicago gun violence. Chicago, like some other major US cities, is grappling with an alarming spike in violent crime.