The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) was passed in Congress in 2017 and signed into law in January 2018. The fact that it passed both chambers unanimously and without amendment shows that its purpose and intended effects are uncontroversial among policymakers: Law enforcement agencies need and deserve support in their ongoing efforts to protect the mental health and well-being of their employees. But the timing of the act and this opportunity to respond to its provisions is important. A damaging national narrative has emerged in which law enforcement officers—whether federal, state, local, or tribal— are seen not as protectors of communities but as oppressors. Even though there are approximately 800,000 individuals who wear badges in this country, and they engage in millions of honorable, positive, and uncontroversial interactions with the community every day, officers today can find that their actions are constantly questioned and viewed suspiciously. The public trust in law enforcement inherent to successful crime prevention, suppression, and prosecution can be damaged by assumptions and misunderstandings as much as by deliberate challenges and provocations. In this environment, where an inherently stressful job is made more so by a constant undercurrent of distrust and negative public opinion, the risks to officer wellness are exacerbated. To aid in addressing these risks, LEMHWA called for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to submit (1) a report to Congress on mental health practices and services in the U.S. Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) that could be adopted by federal, state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies as well as (2) a report containing recommendations to Congress on • effectiveness of crisis lines for law enforcement officers; • efficacy of annual mental health checks for law enforcement officers; • expansion of peer mentoring programs; • ensuring privacy considerations for these types of programs. LEMHWA specified that this work should include identifying and reviewing research as well as consulting with state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and other federal agencies that employ law enforcement officers.
The DOJ is pleased to respond to the act as officer safety, health, and wellness is a longstanding priority of the agency. This report addresses these specific requests of the act in a single document. The act also specified that the Director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) would submit a report to Congress that “focuses on case studies of programs designed primarily to address officer psychological health and well-being.” That report, entitled Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Programs: Eleven Case Studies, is periodically referenced throughout this report, as the case studies provide examples for many of the points and recommendations discussed here.
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