AG Holder 'Sorry' and 'Angry' About 'Gun Violence' Killing Law Enforcement Officers

By Susan Jones | March 6, 2012 | 12:16 PM EST

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the Northwestern University law school, Monday, March 5, 2012 in Chicago. Holder said Monday that the decision to kill a U.S. citizen living abroad who poses a terrorist threat "is among the gravest that government leaders can face," but justified lethal action as legal and sometimes necessary in the war on terror. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

( - Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday expressed sorrow and anger at the escalating number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, including at least 71 killed by "gun violence."

"We can, and we must, do even more" to protect law enforcers," Holder told the spring meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington.

"Just as I promised last year, protecting the safety of our law enforcement officers has been, and will continue to be, a key area of focus for the Justice Department," Holder said.

Holder noted that 177 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty last year, a 16 percent increase from 2010. "And 71 of these officers were killed by gun violence," he said.

"I am sorry – and, quite frankly, I am angry – to report that, since the beginning of 2012, we have mourned the loss of an additional 24 law enforcement officers."

Holder told the attorneys general that the states must work with the Justice Department "to build on critical investments," such as expanding a bulletproof vest initiative, officer-safety training programs, and information-sharing platforms. He mentioned the U.S.-Mexico State Alliance Partnership, which is intended to boost cooperation among state officials and institutions of the United States and Mexico.

"I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of you that the safety challenges before us demand that we take these efforts to a new level," Holder told the attorneys-general.

In testimony before Congress, Holder repeatedly has denied knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious, a program under the Justice Department's jurisdiction that allowed more than a thousand guns purchased in the U.S. to flow to Mexico for purposes of tracing them to drug cartels.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lost track of the guns -- some of which ended up at crime scene where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in December 2010.

As previously reported, more than 100 members of Congress have called for Holder to resign over the ATF's botched operation.

But Holder says he didn't learn about Operation Fast and Furious until the beginning of 2011: "Not only did I not authorize those tactics, when I found out about them I told the field and everybody in the United States Department of Justice that those tactics had to stop -- that they were not acceptable and that gunwalking was to stop. That was what my reaction [was] to my finding out about the use of that technique," he told a House panel on Feb. 2.

But critics complain that someone in the Justice Department had to have known about Fast and Furious, and so far, no one has been disciplined. Republican lawmakers are still waiting for subpoenaed Justice Department documents pertaining to the botched operation.