Suicide is the number one cause of death for police officers in the United States. But Congress has failed to fund grant programs that provide support services for police officers and their families. Current grant programs also do not allow for funds to be used for suicide prevention efforts, mental health screenings, or training to identify officers at risk.
Officers need an advocate in Washington, and that’s why today U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) along with Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has introduced the "Supporting and Treating Officers In Crisis Act of 2019." The bill would restore grant funding for law enforcement family-support services. The bill also allows grant recipients to use funds to establish suicide-prevention programs and mental health services for law enforcement officers.
Both Senators Hawley and Whitehouse served as the chief law enforcement officers for their respective states before entering Congress. They issued the following statements upon introduction of this bipartisan legislation:
Senator Hawley said, “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.
Senator Whitehouse said, “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.”
Original co-sponsors of the bill include Senators Tillis (R-N.C.), Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Durbin (D-Ill.), Leahy (D-Vt.), Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cotton (R-Ark.), Cornyn (R-Texas), Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Scott (R-Fla.).
The National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, National Association of Police Organizations, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and National District Attorneys Association have endorsed this legislation.
Full text can be found here.
Studies and surveys consistently show that law enforcement officers (“LEOs”) have above-average stress levels in their jobs.
Among the top stressor events that LEOs report facing on a regular basis are:
- Dealing with family disputes and crisis situations (83%)
- Responding to felonies in progress (80%)
- Dealing with insufficient department support for their mission (77%)
- Situations requiring the use of force (59%)
- Exposure to dead or battered children (27%)
- Being physically attacked (23%)
These differences in stress levels lead to greater adverse outcomes for LEOs than the general population.
- One study estimated that between 25% and 30% of police officers have stress-based physical health problems, most notably high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders.
- Another study of Ohio police officers found that 7% of officers sampled met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
- The Centers for Disease Control concluded that the rate of suicides among workers in protective services (law enforcement and firefighting) is 40% higher than the national average.
In recent years, more LEOs have died from suicide than in the line of duty.
- In 2018, 160 LEOs committed suicide, compared to 159 suicides in 2017 and 141 suicides in 2016. That is compared to 144 LEOs who died in the line of duty in 2018 from homicides, traffic accidents, and other causes.
The federal government has failed to fund grant programs for LEO support services in recent years.
- While the federal government devotes significant grant resources to improving state and local police effectiveness and initiatives to fight crime, little to none is devoted to providing support services for police officers and their families.
- Authorization for the federal government’s grant program for LEO family-support services expired in 2000 (34 U.S.C. § 10261(a)(21)).
- The program is also in need of reform, with a greater focus on mental health and suicide prevention (34 U.S.C. §§ 10491–10498).
The bill would address this issue in two ways:
- Reform and expand the family-support grant program’s eligible uses to better address the mental-health and support needs of LEOs, especially as it relates to suicide prevention. The bill would specifically allow grant recipients to use funds to establish suicide-prevention programs and to support officers suffering stress and mental-health issues.
- Reauthorize appropriations for family-support grants for state and local law enforcement agencies, which lapsed in 2000. The bill would authorize up to $7,500,000 in appropriations each year for fiscal years 2020 to 2024, which is the same level of authorization that the program had in 2000.