Wounded FBI Agent Calls for Sterner Justice at Police Memorial Ceremony
May. 14, 1995
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A young FBI agent critically wounded in a shootout last year condemned America's ``failed criminal justice system'' at a candlelight vigil to open National Police Week.
In a dramatic address before about 8,000 people at the National Law Enforcement Memorial, Agent John Kuchta said it was time to ``stop basing our criminal justice policies on the excuses for criminal behavior and start focusing on the consequences.''
Kuchta, 32, was shot five times by a gunman who opened fire in District of Columbia police headquarters on Nov. 22. Two fellow agents and a D.C. homicide detective were killed before the gunman fatally shot himself.
With Attorney General Janet Reno, police officers from across the nation and survivors of slain law enforcement officials looking on, Kuchta said his three comrades would be alive today ``had it not been for a failed criminal justice system'' that provides early release for violent criminals.
Kuchta vowed while he was recovering from his wounds that he would spread the message that ``we as Americans have had enough'' with leniency toward criminals.
Nearly 75 percent of convicted criminals are given suspended sentences, probation or another alternative, Kuchta said. An average life sentence in a state court amounts to seven years in jail.
``Let us go back to our communities ... with the challenge of agent Kuchta ringing in our ears,'' Reno said. ``Let us make sure we bring peace to this land.''
Reno read a message from President Clinton which urged ``rededicating ourselves to restoring the line between right and wrong, and purging our society of the dark forces'' threatening American peace and freedom.
At Saturday night's vigil, a laser beam symbolizing ``the thin blue line'' of law enforcement which stands between the public and law breakers cut across the sky. Bagpipes played and police officers sang memorial hymns.
And 298 names were added tn the gray stone walls of the memorial, bringing the total number of peace officers slain in the line of duty who are remembered there to 13,814.
The 298 new names included 157 who perished in 1994 and 141 deaths disclosed in research covering earlier years, including nine in the 1800s.
Visitors returned Sunday to locate names and leave flowers, notes and other mementos at the granite memorial near the capital's criminal courts and police headquarters.
Public buildings throughout the country planned to fly flags at half-staff Monday in honor of the fallen on Peace Officers Memorial Day.
Since the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma, some advocacy groups and public officials have blamed law enforcement officers for the resentment held in some parts of the country toward the federal government.
Craig W. Floyd, chairman of the memorial fund, said that criminal assaults on officers are part of the job, but not ``the vicious mean-spirited attacks our officers have been forced to endure in recent months.''