President Biden signed into law Thursday three bipartisan bills that expand benefits for local and federal law enforcement officers injured in the line of duty, as well as provide more counseling services to law enforcement.
All three bills signed into law at a White House ceremony cleared Congress with unanimous bipartisan support.
“Every day our nation’s police officers answer the call and confront scenes that can take a toll on them as well and leave them traumatized,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s not fundamentally different than folks in the battlefield. An awful lot of people come home without any physical wounds but come home with post-traumatic stress. Well, the same happens for our law enforcement officers.”
Data from the National Police Executive Research Forum found that more officers die by suicide each year than in the line of duty, and police are 54% more likely than other American workers to take their own lives.
During the ceremony, Mr. Biden distanced himself from the defund the police movement. He noted that the Justice Department announced Thursday that it will give $139 million to departments across the country to hire more than 1,000 new officers.
“When you look at what our communities need, what our law enforcement is being asked to do, it’s going to require more resources, not fewer resources,” he said.
But Mr. Biden also urged the bipartisan lawmakers from both chambers to pass a Democrat bill that would overhaul policing in America. The bill, named after George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis last year, has stalled in the Senate.
Republicans and law enforcement groups have opposed the bill because it would eliminate qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields police from lawsuits for alleged civil rights violations while on the job.
Mr. Biden asked the lawmakers to “come together” and pass the law.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes joined lawmakers on both sides of the aisle at the signing ceremony.
Also in attendance was Angela Bomba, the widow of Thomas Bomba, a Montgomery County, Maryland, police officer who took his own life while on duty in 2019.
The Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021 will expand disability and death payments for first responders injured in the line of duty. It streamlines a Justice Department program to ensure that benefits are delivered in a timely and efficient manner.
Co-sponsored in the Senate by Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, it also retroactively expands eligibility to include first responders injured in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The COPS Counseling Act bolsters the counseling programs that law enforcement agencies must provide to officers. It was sponsored by Mr. Grassley and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, New Mexico Democrat.
It provides confidentiality to federal officers who use peer counseling services, and requires the Justice Department to provide on its website a list of training programs for individuals to become peer support mentors.
The Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act, which had four co-sponsors, strengthens the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute people accused of killing U.S. law enforcement agents in another country.
The bill is named for two Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty while investigating drug cartels in Mexico.