In-Depth: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced this bill to provide tools for care for police officers' mental health:
“Every day law enforcement demonstrates tremendous bravery in protecting us from the worst of humanity, but it often takes a toll. Police work is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. This legislation will provide much-needed support to the heroes that keep us safe.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) adds:
“The things that police officers and firefighters see at accidents and crime scenes can be horrifying, and they often face terrible danger. Helping them process and deal with the things they must bear to protect the rest of us is an important duty we owe.”
Kansas City Chief of Police Rick Smith expressed his support for this bill in an op-ed in the Kansas City Star:
“We must stop treating police suicides like isolated incidents. More officers died by suicide in 2018 than in the line of duty. The rate of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression for police and firefighters is five times higher than the general population, according to research from the Ruderman Family Foundation. Yet only 10% of police departments have a suicide prevention program… We need a dedicated mental health professional on staff. We need a psychiatrist who understands what first responders face, has expertise in treating them and can devote all of his or her professional time to the mental health care of the members of our department. We work with medical doctors when our officers are physically hurt in the line of duty and arrange for their treatment. Treatment for mental illnesses related to officers’ duties deserves just as much priority. Police cannot properly provide for the safety of our city if they are injured — physically or mentally. We do not have a place for a psychiatrist in our budget, unfortunately. That is why I was excited to see a bill sponsored by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley: the Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis Act of 2019. This legislation would grant up to $7 million for state and local law enforcement agencies to offer counseling to law enforcement officers and their families, among other things. Other permitted uses for the funds would include evidence-based suicide-prevention programs, specialized training for mental health and suicide prevention, and related support services.”
During National Police Week, this bill passed the Senate unanimously and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. It has 21 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Its House companion bill, sponsored by Rrep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), passed the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security by voice votewith the support of 11 bipartisan House cosponsors, including six Democrats and five Republicans.
This bill is endorsed by the National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, National Association of Police Organizations, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and National District Attorneys Association.
Of Note: Rep. Hawley’s office notes that studies and surveys “consistently show that law enforcement officers (“LEOs”) have above-average stress levels in their jobs.” Their stressors include dealing with family disputes and crisis situations; responding to felonies in progress; dealing with insufficient department support for their mission; and more.
Because of their elevated stress levels, law enforcement officers have greater adverse health outcomes as compared to the general population. One study found that 25-30% of police officers have stress-based physical health problems, such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. In another study, 7% of Ohio police officers were found to have the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Finally, suicide rates among law enforcement officers are elevated as compared to the general population. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concluded that the suicide rate among workers in protective services (law enforcement and firefighting) is 40% higher than the national average. In 2018, 160 LEOs committed suicide while 144 died in the line of duty the same year.
In recent years, the federal government hasn’t provided grant resources to provide support services for police officers and their families. In 2000, authorization for the federal government’s grant program for LEO family-support services expired. Rep. Hawley’s office adds that the program is also “in need of reform, with a great focus on mental health and suicide prevention.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / PeopleImages)