Crabbe, Brown & James, LLP, on behalf of the National Fraternal Order of Police, and in connection with the FOP’s Division of Wellness Services, is tracking law enforcement officer mental health and wellness legislation appearing across the country. States are recognizing the need to address mental wellness barriers for police officers. To be certain, policing is an essential occupation to preserve and protect both the law and the public. Those who serve in law enforcement deserve proper protection from the mental strain associated with this task. Law enforcement officers face exposure to traumatic calls for service on a daily basis. These events include child abuse, domestic violence, traffic accidents, and homicides. Repeated exposure to these stressors may have an adverse impact on officers’ mental health. Officers may develop anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The majority of states are proposing law enforcement officer mental health and wellness legislation in some capacity. In 2020 and 2021 combined, approximately 300 bills were proposed across 42 states for “Officer Safety and Wellbeing.” This legislation attempts to mitigate the impact of stress on officers and their families; prevent harm and suicide among law enforcement officers; and establish programs that provide outlets for the officers. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) tracks these proposed bills across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
States are proposing changes to their workers’ compensation systems to include post-traumatic stress that has developed as a result of service in the department or unit as a recognizable injury. For example, Kansas adds post-traumatic stress disorder under “personal injury” for first responders. First responders include firefighters, law enforcement, or medical service providers. Moreover, other states, like New York, have pending legislation that establishes a presumption that when a police officer or emergency personnel is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder it is the result from service in the line of duty, and therefore is compensable.
Mental Health Programs and Initiatives
Many states are introducing law enforcement officer mental health and wellness legislation to establish mental health programs. These programs seek to provide opportunities for counseling and establish peer support groups. For example, in Oklahoma, legislation requires the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to contract for certain support for crisis intervention. These supports include counseling for those who are impacted by trauma, cumulative stress, anxiety, addictions, death, and suicide attempt. Furthermore, New York’s bill includes establishing a peer support group for mental illness that also incorporates family support services, domestic abuse, and childcare. And in Massachusetts, lawmakers introduced a measure to create a commission to review causes of post-traumatic stress disorder, identify its estimated prevalence among police officers, and make recommendations on the specific programs that are most effective to prevent and treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other mental health programs include receiving appropriate training in identifying the symptoms of mental illness and creating a list of recommended agencies or organizations where an officer can access help. For example, new legislation in Illinois would amend the state’s Police Training Act to establish a Mental Health Coordinator. The Coordinator will assist in creating training procedures, selecting medical professionals for a reference list, and organizing a peer support program. As another example, New Mexico’s legislation suggests hiring a licensed psychologist for every law enforcement agency in the state.
This subset of legislation often encompasses mental health training and education. Pending legislation provides for increased and uniform training requirements and include “continuing” and “ongoing” education.
Mental Health Assessments
A few states are proposing related law enforcement officer mental health and wellness legislation. The new laws would require officers to undergo mental health assessments. This legislation seeks to establish a psychological fitness standard for law enforcement officers. For example, Indiana’s pending legislation requires the Law Enforcement Training Board to establish psychological fitness for duty policies, procedures, and standards. This law enforcement officer mental health and wellness legislation subset requires a mental health evaluation to become certified.
Since 2001, Crabbe, Brown & James has served as general counsel for the National Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP strives to improve the working conditions of law enforcement officers, their mental health and wellness, and the safety of those who serve through education, legislation, information, community involvement and employee representation. Tracking these measures are preventative efforts aiming to protect law enforcement from the intense mental and emotional strain associated with the profession.