Suicide has quietly become an epidemic among the nation’s police, ranking as the No. 1 cause of officer deaths this year. Frustrated police advocates and mental health experts warn that President Biden has not only ignored the crisis but also exacerbated it with anti-police rhetoric.
Once a loyal ally to law enforcement during his more than 30 years in the Senate, Mr. Biden has tread a fine line when it comes to policing. He has pushed back against the left’s defund-the-police movement but has made few public comments supporting the police, fearful of crossing the Democratic Party’s progressive base and Black voters.
“The administration is not addressing police suicides, but in many ways, they are contributing to the stress, uncertainty and mental health issues that a lot of American law enforcement officers feel,” said Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokeswoman for the National Police Association.
As president, Mr. Biden has signed legislation to reduce and prevent suicide among frontline health care workers, launched a military and veteran suicide prevention strategy, and advocated mental health services for transgender teens.
But administration officials have remained largely mum on law enforcement suicides outside of mourning the deaths of the four officers who died by suicide after responding to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
At a May event urging cities to invest more funds in local police, Mr. Biden discussed the need for mental health services for offenders reentering society, but not officers.
A Justice Department spokesperson disputed that the administration has been silent on law enforcement suicides, saying Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed the issue at the International Association of Chiefs of Police symposium in March.
During his remarks, Mr. Garland noted that the Justice Department’s COPS Office this year will issue $7 million in grants to prevent suicide and expand mental health services for 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 then-President Trump.
The spokesperson said the department has not increased the level of funding for fiscal 2023, but it has expanded the training and technical assistance it provides to law enforcement for mental wellness. This year the department added a consolidated list of officer safety and wellness resources to its website.
Mr. Garland also touted a $2 million grant to convene a national consortium on preventing law enforcement suicides. Those funds were approved by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance in 2019.