New Law Directs FBI to Create National Law Enforcement Suicide Database
President Trump enacted the measure amid efforts to curb law enforcement brutality.
On Tuesday, President Trump enacted a measure to create a national system to track law enforcement suicides.
The “Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act” directs the FBI to establish a new data collection program to better understand and prevent suicides among current and former law enforcement officers at the federal, state, tribal and local levels. The bill was introduced in the House last July and in the Senate last October, and both chambers approved it in May. Trump’s signing of the legislation coincides with efforts from both political parties to reform law enforcement following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in police custody in Minneapolis last month.
“It is a sad fact that we lose more officers to suicide than we lose in the line of duty,” said National President of the Fraternal Order of Police Chuck Canterbury, when the bill was first introduced. “Currently, information related to law enforcement suicides and suicide attempts is not collected or analyzed in a systematic way, so this fact does nothing to help us help these at-risk officers.”
Under the new law, the attorney general, acting through the FBI, must within the next year establish a data collection program for suicides and attempted suicides. The information law enforcement agencies can submit to the FBI should include: surrounding circumstances, general location, demographics, individuals’ job category, and method of suicide or attempted suicide.
The FBI will work with the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology “to develop publication policies to manage the risk of identity disclosure based upon the best practices identified by other federal statistical programs,” according to the measure’s text. No more than two years after enactment and annually thereafter, the attorney general must submit a report to Congress detailing the findings and post it online.
“I’m pleased to see this bipartisan bill signed into law,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who introduced the bill in the Senate. “Law enforcement officers are at a high risk for mental health challenges and death by suicide, and improving mental health for law enforcement officers is a necessary part of improving policing outcomes. Through this legislation, Congress can better understand the resources needed to support police officers and ensure that those policing our communities are mentally and physically equipped to best serve the public.”
According to the Justice Department's most recent statistics, in 2016 there were about 132,000 federal law enforcement officers employed by 83 federal agencies. Two-thirds of them worked for Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, FBI or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. There were 701,000 officers in state and local law-enforcement agencies.
Last year, Shane Fausey, national president of the Council of Prison Locals C-33, a division of the American Federation of Government Employees, told Government Executive that the record for federal correctional officer suicides in a single year—14—was set in late November 2019. BOP, however, said there were nine in fiscal 2019 and the beginning of fiscal 2020.
In recent years “suicide has become the number one cause of death for federal, state and local law enforcement officers around the country,” said President Ed Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, a union that represents sergeants in the New York Police Department. Supporters of the data collection act say the goal is to better understand the scope of the issue and figure out prevention strategies.
The bill was enacted during a watershed moment for law enforcement as both parties are working to increase officers’ transparency and accountability after Floyd’s death and protests nationwide that had a heavy federal law enforcement presence. On Tuesday, President Trump also signed an executive order aimed at reducing police brutality. Senate Republicans introduced their police reform bill on Wednesday, after House Democrats released theirs last week, setting the stage for a potential showdown.