Suicide has quietly become an epidemic within the National Police, ranking as the number one cause of officer death this year. And frustrated police advocates and mental health experts warn that President Biden has not only ignored the burgeoning crisis, but has also exacerbated it with anti-police rhetoric.
Once a staunch ally of law enforcement for more than three decades in the Senate, Mr. Biden has walked a fine line when it comes to policing. He pushed back on the left-wing defund the police movement but made few public comments in support of the police, fearing to cross paths with the Democratic Party’s progressive base and black voters.
“The administration does not address police suicides, but in many ways they contribute to the stress, uncertainty, and mental health issues that many American law enforcement officers experience,” said Betsy Brantner Smith, spokeswoman for the National Police Association.
As president, Mr. Biden signed legislation to reduce and prevent suicide among frontline healthcare workers, launched a suicide prevention strategy for military and veterans, and advocated for health services. mental health for transgender adolescents.
But administration officials have remained largely silent on law enforcement suicides outside of mourning the deaths of the four officers who took their own lives after responding to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the United States Capitol. United.
At an event in May urging cities to invest more funds in local policing, Mr Biden spoke of the need for mental health services for offenders reentering society, but not for officers.
A Justice Department spokesperson disputed that the administration has remained silent on law enforcement suicides, saying Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed the issue at the International Association of Chiefs of Justice symposium. police in March.
During his remarks, Garland noted that the Justice Department’s COPS office will award $7 million in grants this year to prevent suicide and expand mental health services to law enforcement. However, most of the money had been allocated under the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act, a 2018 measure signed into law by former President Trump.
The spokesperson said the department has not increased the level of funding for fiscal year 2023, but has expanded the training and technical assistance it provides to law enforcement for the good – to be mental. This year, the ministry added a consolidated list of officer safety and well-being resources to its website.
Garland also touted a $2 million grant to convene a national law enforcement suicide prevention consortium. These funds were approved by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance in 2019, also during the Trump years.
“If you recognize there is a problem, you have to do something, so I think there is a reluctance to recognize that there is a problem in this culture of police bashing,” Cherylynn said. Lee, a police psychologist. “How can you openly say that officers are malicious and have a parallel narrative of how they defend themselves for good and lose so much in their mission to protect us?”
This year, 64 law enforcement officers in the United States have died by suicide — an average of more than 10 per month — according to Blue HELP, a nonprofit that keeps such statistics.
Experts say the number is likely higher. Blue HELP data is based on reports from local police departments. These departments are reluctant to provide specific numbers due to the stigma attached to suicide and it’s not considered a death in the line of duty, so families of officers who have committed suicide cannot get of benefits.
The 64 reported suicides represent 32% of the 197 officer deaths this year, more than any category of deaths in the line of duty.
This year, 34 officers have been shot and killed, most during arrest, 58 officers have died of COVID-19 and another 30 have died in traffic incidents.
In 2021, suicide accounted for approximately 20% of all known police deaths.
The increase in officer suicides comes as the national suicide rate fell 3% in 2021, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mental health advocates say the wave of suicides stems from the shame and stigma associated with seeking help in a profession that prides itself on mental and physical strength, coupled with the growing stress of being a cop in the anti-police climate in America.
“I’ve been involved in law enforcement since 1976 and this is the worst I’ve seen,” Ms Brantner Smith said.
Experts say the Biden administration can do a lot to curb law enforcement suicides.
The first thing, they said, would be to knock down comments critical of law enforcement.
In a statement to honor the officers during Police Week last year, Mr Biden criticized the officers for creating “a deep sense of mistrust” between law enforcement and minority communities.
“This year we also recognize that in many of our communities, especially black and brown communities, there is a deep sense of distrust in law enforcement; a distrust that has been exacerbated by the recent deaths of several black and brown people at the hands of law enforcement,” said the statement which sought to acknowledge the fallen officers in the line of duty.
Mr Biden vowed last year that two US Border Patrol officers falsely accused of “whipping” Haitian migrants at the border will “pay” for their actions, but they were later cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
“The biggest thing the Biden administration can do is apologize to the profession for some of the outrageous statements Joe Biden has made since the election,” Ms Brantner Smith said. “American law enforcement feels that not only is the administration not supporting us, but that we are being actively targeted and it is damaging the mental health of the men and women on the streets who are trying to make their work.”
Mr. Biden could also organize a day honoring law enforcement or an event highlighting the need for mental health services for officers. The White House previously announced several mental health initiatives to much fanfare, including a plan to reduce military veteran suicides.
Experts have also called for increased funding for mental health services for law enforcement, calling for increased Justice Department grants available to local departments for counseling and other treatment services. .
Police advocates have said the grants provided under the 2018 legislation are woefully inadequate and need to be supplemented with funds from the federal government. Grants available through the COPS program and the Byrne program are helpful, they said, but cash-strapped departments are spending the funds on critical needs such as replacing damaged vehicles and upgrading detention cells , leaving only a few dollars for mental health services.
Currently, there is no legislation pending in Congress that would increase federal funding for law enforcement mental health services. While some have blamed the Biden administration, critics note that Republicans have not introduced legislation to improve police access to mental health services.
“The resources that exist are helpful but they are not enough,” said Ms Lee, the police psychologist. “It’s a political danger zone to be pro-police.”
She called for legislation that would require police officers to have an annual session with a therapist and require officers involved in critical incidents to attend a debriefing with officials and advisers. Congress can only implement such rules for federal agents, but local departments usually follow suit.
Currently, only one bill in Congress addresses higher suicide rates among first responders. The Public Safety Officers Support Act would allow families of officers who have committed suicide to qualify for benefits.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, authorized the Senate Judiciary Committee. He will now go to the entire floor for the vote.
An aide to Mr. Cornyn said the president could have done more to help the bill move faster.
“After the failure of their disastrous police defunding program, the Biden administration continues to find new ways to demonize and neglect our brave law enforcement,” the aide said.