The statement: “You know, more cops are killed responding to domestic violence calls than anything else. Did you know that?” — President Joe Biden.
Biden made the request during a March 9 speech on his fiscal year 2024 budget proposal, asking for more money for law enforcement training, saying they need more help.
Politifact rating: False. Domestic violence calls can be deadly to police, but PolitiFact found no evidence that more officers die answering those calls than any other type of call.
Biden didn’t specify which year or years he was referring to and didn’t say if it included the incidents. Some experts said that without such qualifiers it is difficult to evaluate Biden’s statement.
Data, mostly from the FBI, shows Biden is wrong. Domestic violence calls can be deadly for officers, but not what primarily leads to their deaths while on duty.
“A better statement would have been that ‘disturbance/domestic violence incidents are one of the most common instances in which active-duty law enforcement officers are criminally killed,'” said Jordan Blair Woods, law professor at the University of California. ‘University of Arizona which has published research on policing and traffic stops.
The FBI provides annual data on law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. There are two main categories, one is accidental which includes motor vehicle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars. The other category is “criminal deaths,” which the FBI defines as “the direct result of a willful and intentional act by an offender.”
These data do not prove Biden’s claim that more police officers are killed responding to domestic violence calls than anything else.
A summary of FBI data showed that 60 agents were criminally killed in 2022, nearly all of which were shot. When broken down by circumstance encountered by the officer upon arrival at the scene, the data for these police fatalities show:
Twelve were the result of an ambush (entrapment/premeditation);
Eleven were related to investigative/enforcement work (drug issue, wanted person, traffic violation);
Six were a nuisance/disturbance (domestic disturbance, civil disorder, etc.);
Six were a tactical situation;
Six attacks were unprovoked.
Additionally, in 2022, 58 officers were killed in crashes, mainly motor vehicles.
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The FBI pointed to more detailed data showing the circumstances faced by 504 officers criminally killed from 2012 to 2021. Data showing call to duty or officer involvement reason showed 68 officers died while responding to nuisance/disturbance calls, of which 19 related to domestic violence.
A category that the FBI labels “investigative/enforcement” accounted for 182 officers killed. This included deaths related to traffic violation stops (45), wanted persons (32), and suspicious persons/circumstances (32).
However, “this statement is commonly heard among law enforcement individuals — that domestic conflict calls are unusually risky,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center.
In domestic violence calls, Butts said that “the fact that the police have been called indicates that emotions are already hot and someone is vulnerable.”
Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who lectures on police law and policy, noted that the FBI data does not include the number of police officers who die by suicide, which is estimated to be higher to criminal homicides. In 2020, 116 officers died by suicide, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization.