Freshman U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., scored a win as a proposal she pushed to have the federal government offer more support to local governments to help law enforcement officers with mental health issues was signed into law last week.
Back in April, Demings teamed up with Republican U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks of Indiana, Doug Collins of Georgia and Dave Reichert of Washington and New Jersey Democrat U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell to bring out the “Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act.” Indiana’s two senators--Republican Todd Young and Democrat Joe Donnelly--filed the companion bill in the Senate in April.
“Members of our law enforcement put themselves in harm’s way to protect our communities every day,” Brooks said when the legislation was unveiled in April. “Our officers deal with the unthinkable and daily face situations that can be hard to process and impossible to forget. They need the training and resources to protect their own emotional and mental wellbeing in these situations. This bill provides law enforcement officers with the skills to handle the stress and anxiety associated with their job as well as the resources to address serious mental health challenges that may arise like depression and PTSD. I am proud to support our law enforcement agencies, mental health providers and most importantly, our men and women in blue.”
The legislation would have the federal Justice, Defense and VA Departments “develop resources to equip local law enforcement agencies to address mental health challenges faced by officers” and creates grants to “initiate peer mentoring pilot programs, develop training for mental health providers specific to law enforcement mental health needs, and support law enforcement officers by studying the effectiveness of crisis hotlines and annual mental health checks.”
A host of groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the National Association of Police Officers (NAPO), the Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA) and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) backed the legislation which President Donald Trump signed into law on Wednesday.
"Our officers wear protective clothing and other equipment to keep themselves safe from physical harm, but these officers also face challenges to their mental health and well-being. Unlike many other professions, sometimes you can't leave the job at the office,” said Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the FOP in support of the legislation.
Demings, who served as Orlando police chief, weighed in on Thursday after Trump signed the bill into law.
“I am gratified that the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017 is now law,” Demings said. “As a former Chief of Police with 27 years in law enforcement, I did everything I could to protect my officers from dangerous situations. But the reality is that this is a dangerous job. Our law enforcement officers are at risk of physical and mental trauma every time they put on the uniform.
“We cannot ask our officers to do this work while failing to cope with the consequences,” Demings added. “We must take care of them so they can take care of us. This important piece of legislation will ensure that agencies are better equipped and officers have any mental health support they need.”
Two Republicans in the Florida delegation--Carlos Curbelo and Ted Yoho--cosponsored the bill in the House.