By State Representative
I recently read the story of 26-year old Rowley, MA police officer Stephen Levesque who tragically took his own life last month. A quote from Rowley Police Chief Scott Dumas puts the issue in sharp perspective. He said, “Many suffer in plain sight, as Stephen did, leaving us all to live with the questions, “What did I miss? What could I have done’?”
Sadly, this story is not new to the law enforcement community. According to one study, between 125 and 300 law enforcement officers take their own lives every year. Thirty percent of first responders suffer from mental health issues, such as PTSD or depression. This is a much higher rate than the general population experiences. Studies additionally point to an increased prevalence of mental health issues when law enforcement officers respond to a traumatic event.
We need to do much more to address the mental health crisis that persists in the United States today. And specifically for our law enforcement community, we need to provide resources and protocols for police departments to ensure the well-being of officers who have been involved in critical or traumatic incidents.
I am proud to have filed a bill this session to address this issue. My bill, entitled H3845, “An Act relative to the well being of law enforcement officers after involvement in a critical incident,” would mandate that every law enforcement agency in the Commonwealth create a program to support officers who have been involved in such an incident. These programs would contain pre-incident preparation, post-critical incident services to both the officer and their family, guidelines for temporary leave to mentally recover, a reintegration plan into the department, as well as access to ongoing mental health services.
I had two goals in mind in filing this legislation. The first is to save lives. No officer involved in any sort of traumatic incident should ever have to suffer in silence. Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to save people. We must do all we can to ensure that they have the resources to deal with mental health crises. One police officer taking his/her own life is one too many.
I additionally believe that this legislation will result in even better police officers. Over time, the constant weight of dealing with traumatic incidents can make it more difficult for officers to do their jobs effectively. The creation of a robust mental health program will help each police department ensure that their officers have fully recovered both physically and mentally from past traumatic experiences before they return to the field.