Dated: Monday March 16, 2020
Congresswoman Robin Kelly
2416 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Rep. Kelly,
I wish first to thank you for the opportunity to provide you with the written testimony and comments of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc. (NABLEO), a premier national organization representing the interests and concerns of African American, Latino and other criminal justice practitioners of color serving in law enforcement, corrections, and investigative agencies throughout the United States, and the communities in which they serve.
Police culture acknowledges the importance of physical safety and wellness. Precautions to ensure an officer’s physical safety abound and are often reinforced through official policy statements and training requirements. From wearing bullet proof vests and seat belts to self-defense and firearms training, physical safety is something all departments emphasize and all officers support. Similarly, every police department has initial physical fitness requirements in order for an officer to be accepted into the department.
Unfortunately, mental health and well-being, while equally critical, fail to receive the same level of attention and resources within the officer safety continuum. Mental health issues and the threat of officer suicide are often topics no one wants to acknowledge. In a profession that prides itself on bravery and heroism mental health concerns can be seen as weaknesses and antithetical to the strong courageous police persona. Nevertheless, police officers are not immune to stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other mental health concerns or illness. Arguably, they are more susceptible given the horrific events, trauma, and chronic stress endemic in their profession.
When agencies and individual officers do seek guidance and assistance, they often find that limited resources are available. Those that are available come from disparate sources, with few devoted specifically to law enforcement. As a result, neither officers nor chiefs know where to turn in a time of crisis.
The First Responder Resiliency Act of 2020 would exempt job-related mental health grants, currently authorized and issued under the existing Department of Justice’s Community Orientated Policing Services (COPS) and FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grants programs, from the programs’ matching fund requirements. The brave men and women serving the nation as first responders, whether in law enforcement or fire services, selflessly place their lives and minds on the line day in and day out to preserve community safety. However, currently, when given the choice between using limited local matching funds for public safety equipment or responder wellness, most agencies today will make the difficult decision to forego their own needs in order to pursue what may be perceived to be the greatest public good, relying on the current programs requiring a local match of 5-25 percent of the total grants.
The First Responder Resiliency Act of 2020 seeks to eliminate the need to make this impossible choice between responder wellness and public safety while still preserving the requirement for other grant proposals within these programs. It will allow public safety agencies to use the already limited matching funds being distributed for public safety equipment and programs while still pursuing grants to support resiliency and first responder wellness.
By exempting job-related mental health grant funding from the matching fund requirement through the First Responder Resiliency Act of 2020, you will ensure that more officers and more departments have the resources and programs necessary to ensure that officers go home safe and healthy, in body and mind.
With data indicating that in 2019, more than 220 law enforcement officers died from acts of suicide, the First Responder Resiliency Act of 2020 will play an important and intricate role in expanding existing, and creating new, mental health resources by removing the grant matching requirement for agencies.
The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc. (NABLEO) looks forward to the successful enactment of this much needed and worthwhile legislation.
Lieut. Charles P. Wilson (Ret.)
The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc, a 501.(c).(3) non-profit, is a premier national organization representing the interests and concerns of African American, Latino and other criminal justice practitioners of color serving in law enforcement, corrections, and investigative agencies throughout the United States, and the communities in which they serve.
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