DENVER – Legislators took a step Tuesday toward supporting police officers who suffer from stress-related illnesses and giving them the tools to assist the mentally ill.
The state House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1215, which encourages departments to implement policies allowing for counseling services for officers and to provide on-scene mental health assistance for incidents involving individuals with mental health disorders.
Representatives from several law enforcement agencies were involved in drafting HB 1215 and testified for it Tuesday.
Peg Ackerman, lobbyist for the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said the bill is a step toward addressing the stigmatization of mental counseling among law enforcement officers who experience traumatic events.
“It creates a means and opportunity for police to receive professional counseling services,” said Sean Harper, representative of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Police see trauma everyday, police see sometimes more trauma in a week then most of the rest of us see in our entire lifetimes. The best way to mitigate that trauma is through the use of professional counseling services.”
Money issuesTo implement the policies, HB 1215 encourages departments to draft a new program that would also be created in the Department of Local Affairs to provide grant funding. But with the tight budgetary situation facing the state no money is dedicated to the program. So, it would rely on gifts and donations until funds could be appropriated.
Bill sponsor Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, said he hopes funding will become available, but in the meantime efforts will be made to identify foundations that support mental health services for police officers.
The bill heads to the full House for second reading and debate.
Message behind the billIn addition to providing support for law enforcement, HB 1215 is among efforts by the black caucus in the House to foster positive relationships between police and minority communities.
The effort is a response to increased public awareness and backlash after incidents involving police and African-Americans, and departs from most legislation involving law enforcement, Coleman said.
That was acknowledged by members of the Judiciary Committee.
“Over the past few years we’ve been talking about rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the community, and I appreciate the fresh approach that you took with this bill because I’ll admit that some of our previous bills have been kind of ‘policing the police,’” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, a member of the black caucus.
While rebuilding of relationships is a motivating factor, HB 1215 should be seen as an ideological statement, Coleman said.
“I was proud to bring this bill because usually it’s (legislation) checking those officers and making sure they’re doing a good job, but for me in addition to holding them accountable I believe in providing resources,” he said. “We shouldn’t simply demonize people who are putting their lives on the line.”