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Domestic violence calls can be deadly for police, but FBI data does not show that more police officers are killed responding to those calls than any other calls.
FBI data shows 504 officers feloniously killed from 2012 to 2021. The data for call for service or reason for the officer’s involvement showed 19 related to domestic violence.
But other circumstances accounted for more officer deaths than domestic violence calls, including traffic violation stops, wanted people and suspicious people /circumstances.
Rather than wanting to "defund" the police, President Joe Biden has called for more money for training for law enforcement, saying they need more help.
"We expect our cops to be social workers. We expect them to be psychologists, mental health counselors," Biden said during a March 9 speech about his fiscal year 2024 budget proposal. "You know, more cops are killed responding to domestic violence calls than anything else. Did you know that?"
Biden did not specify what year or years he was referring to and didn’t say whether he was including accidents. Some experts told us without such qualifiers, it’s hard to evaluate Biden’s statement. The White House did not respond to our request for evidence.
The evidence we found, mostly from the FBI, shows Biden is wrong. Domestic violence calls can be deadly for officers, but not what mostly lead to their deaths while on duty.
"A better statement would have been that ‘domestic disturbance/violence incidents are one of the most common circumstances in which on-duty law enforcement officers are feloniously killed,’" said Jordan Blair Woods, a University of Arizona law professor who has published research on police and traffic stops.
The FBI provides annual data about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. There are two main categories, one is accidental, which includes car crashes or pedestrian officers struck by cars. The other category is "felonious deaths," which the FBI defines as "a direct result of a willful and intentional act by an offender."
This data does not prove Biden’s claim that more police officers are killed responding to domestic violence calls than anything else.
An FBI data summary showed that 60 officers were killed feloniously in 2022, nearly all were shot. When broken down by circumstance encountered by the officer upon arrival at the scene, the data for these police deaths show:
Twelve were the result of an ambush (entrapment/premeditation);
Eleven were related to investigative/enforcement work (drug-related matter, wanted person, traffic violation stop);
Six were a disorder/disturbance (domestic disturbance, civil disorder, etc.);
Six were a tactical situation;
Six attacks were unprovoked.
Additionally in 2022, 58 officers were killed in accidents, mostly car crashes. Separately, the FBI noted that 81 officers died in the line of duty from medical conditions, including 52 from COVID-19.
The FBI pointed us to more detailed data showing the circumstances faced by 504 officers feloniously killed from 2012 to 2021. The data showing the call for service or reason for the officer’s involvement showed 68 officers died while responding to disorder/disturbance calls, including 19 related to domestic violence.
A category the FBI labels "investigative/enforcement" accounted for 182 killed officers. This included deaths related to traffic violation stops (45), wanted people (32) and suspicious people/circumstances (32).
Domestic violence calls can be deadly for police, but Biden overstated the data.
Still, "that claim is commonly heard among law enforcement folks — that domestic conflict calls are unusually risky," said Jeffrey Butts, the director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s research and evaluation center.
In domestic violence calls, Butts said "the fact that police have been called indicates that emotions are already hot and someone is vulnerable."
Seth Stoughton, a University of South Carolina law professor who teaches classes on police law and policy, said politicians sometimes oversimplify data on police officer deaths and leap to inaccurate conclusions.
"There are common misperceptions you hear over and over again and when you give into them you find out they aren’t actually backed by the data," Stoughton said.
Stoughton noted that the FBI’s data doesn’t include the number of police officers who die by suicide, which is estimated to be higher than felonious killings. In 2020, 116 officers died by suicide, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund also tracks officer deaths in the line of duty (their criteria are broader than the FBI’s). The group found that 226 officers died in 2022, and the leading cause was contracting COVID-19 on the job. Sixty-four officers were shot and killed, including nine who were handling domestic disputes.
Biden said, "More cops are killed responding to domestic violence calls than anything else."
FBI data for 2022 showed that 60 officers were killed feloniously; 20% of the officers killed were ambushed when they arrived on scene, 10% encountered a disorder or disturbance, including domestic violence.
Other FBI data shows that 504 officers were feloniously killed from 2012 to 2021. In that period, 45 officers were killed during traffic violation stops, 32 after responding to calls for wanted people and 32 responding to suspicious people/circumstances calls. Domestic violence calls led to 19 officers’ deaths.
Domestic violence calls can be deadly for police, but we found no evidence that more officers die responding to those calls than any other type of call. The White House did not provide information supporting Biden’s claim.
We rate his statement False.
White House, Remarks by President Biden on his Budget for Fiscal Year 2024, March 9, 2023
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, Law Enforcement Officers Fatalities Report, 2022
CNN, Domestic incidents are highly dangerous for police officers, experts say, Jan. 22, 2022
FBI, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) Program, Accessed March 9, 2023
Dolan Consulting Group, How Dangerous Are Domestic Violence Calls to Officer Safety? October 2017
Pensacola News Journal, Fallen Okaloosa County deputy lauded for saving lives, bringing 'sunshine' to others, Dec. 28, 2022
Slate, The Myth of the Dangerous Traffic Stop Is Killing Black Men in America, April 16, 2021
USA Today, Police, firefighters die by suicide more often than in line of duty. Why rates remain high, June 10, 2022
Email interview, Jeffrey A. Butts, the director of the research & evaluation center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, March 10, 2023
Email interview, Christopher R. Herrmann, CJBS Major Coordinator, Department of Law & Police Science associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, March 10, 2023
Telephone interview, Seth Stoughton, University of South Carolina law professor, March 13, 2023
Email interview, Jordan Blair Woods, University of Arizona law professor, March 13, 2023
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