By Biometrica staffer
On Thursday, Oct. 14, officials with the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would be handing out 65 grants, totaling $7 million, to the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) program. The announcement was made at a roundtable with state and local law enforcement.
The funds will expand access to mental health and wellness services for law enforcement officers (LEOs), and will also improve those services, which include training, peer mentoring, and suicide prevention initiatives.
The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office was established in 1994 as a way to advance community policing across the country. It disburses grants, engages in knowledge sharing, and provides training and technical assistance on community policing and building trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Per the DOJ, the COPS Office has handed out over $14 billion since it was created to over 13,000 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies, resulting in the hiring of over 134,000 officers.
In 2017, Congress passed LEMHWA, which allowed the COPS Office to pilot peer mentoring mental health and wellness initiatives within state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies. The LEMHWA Act is meant to recognize the fact that “good mental and psychological health is just as essential as good physical health” in law enforcement jobs.
“Each day, law enforcement officers across the country put their lives on the line for the communities they serve,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “This has been especially true since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed hundreds of officers’ lives and added to the stress of an already difficult job.” She said this funding reiterates the DOJ’s commitment to supporting and helping local police departments.
In the line of duty, LEOs often suffer high stress and experience traumatic incidents multiple times, which can leave them suffering from various illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. This, in turn, can take a toll on their cognitive abilities, emotional regulation, connections with others, judgement, and performance, the DOJ says — all of which can have serious consequences in this line of work.
One recent example of this playing out in the field is the case of Capitol Police officers who were at the scene of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Many officers were caught up in the crowd and as a result suffered PTSD, which they have spoken and testified about extensively. In addition to one officer who was attacked by protestors and died the next day, over 100 other LEOs were injured. There were at least 1,000 instances of assaults against LEOS on the day, a DOJ review of police officer bodycam footage concluded.
In the many months since, at least four other long-term police officers who were present at the Capitol have taken their own lives. Just yesterday, ABC News reported on the department’s efforts to help those suffering with mental health problems after the riot. Part of that includes adding two wellness support dogs to its health staff. Officers have also created a peer support group for those struggling.