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Comprehensive bill  better prepares first responders for interactions with PTSD

From the office of Rep. Val Demings 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Val Demings (D-FL-10), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), John Rutherford (R-FL-04), Don Bacon (R-NE-02), and TJ Cox (D-CA-21), introduced in the House the TBI and PTSD Law Enforcement Training Act. The legislation would implement several measures to better train law enforcement for interactions with individuals suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Rep. Val Demings

Said Rep. Demings, former Orlando Chief of Police, “millions of Americans live with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries. They deserve the highest standard of professionalism and service from our public servants, and law enforcement needs the best available information and training to keep themselves and the public safe. I’m glad to partner with Reps. Pascrell, Cox, Bacon, and Rutherford on this important bipartisan legislation which will equip our first responders with the tools they need to serve every American, including those with PTSD or TBI.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 3.2 million and 5.3 million people live with a TBI-related disability in the United States. About 7 or 8 percent of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives and about 8 million adults have PTSD during the course of a given year.

Despite the prevalence of TBI and PTSD, the majority of people, including our law enforcement and first responders, cannot recognize and identify the symptoms and struggle to interact with individuals suffering from these conditions. Many of the symptoms of TBI and PTSD, such as confusion, inability to follow directions, and impaired thinking or memory, can be misinterpreted or mistaken for intoxication. Additionally, other symptoms like agitation or irritability can raise safety issues when interacting with law enforcement and first responders. Similar to the crisis intervention training that aids police interaction with individuals who are mentally ill, resources developed to provide information on recognizing the signs and symptoms of TBI and PTSD can help improve emergency response, public and first responder safety, and interactions between first responders and individuals with these conditions.

Specifically, the TBI and PTSD Law Enforcement Training Act would:

  • Direct the Department of Justice through the Bureau of Justice Assistance to solicit best practices and develop crisis intervention training tools for law enforcement and first responders that provides information on the conditions and symptoms of traumatic brain injury, acquired brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and techniques to improve interactions with individuals displaying symptoms of TBI or PTSD.
  • Require that this training be made available as part of the Police Mental Health Collaboration Toolkit, which is a no-cost online training tool that provides resources for law enforcement agencies partnering with mental health providers to effectively respond to calls for service, improve outcomes for people with mental illness, and advance public safety.
  • Authorize an additional $4 million per fiscal year for the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program to fund grants to develop and implement this training.
  • Require a CDC study for law enforcement and first responders who may have suffered a TBI.

Crisis Intervention Training has become a successful tool for the law enforcement community to help to ensure the safety of both officers and individuals with mental health conditions.  TBI and PTSD impact a significant percentage of our population, with staggering rates becoming justice-involved. It is crucial that law enforcement officers and first responders have access to education and tools that help them to more safely and effectively interact with individuals living with brain injuries and/or post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Rebeccah Wolfkiel, Executive Director of the National Association of State Head Injury Administrators (NASHIA).

“Individuals with brain injury may have symptoms that make it difficult for them to follow directions or communicate clearly. Too often, these individuals are mistaken for being drunk or purposefully aggressive, which leads to misunderstandings with law enforcement. It is imperative that first responders throughout the country receive specialized training to help them understand the complexities involved with brain injury,” said Susan Connors, President/CEO of the Brain Injury Association of America.

“MCCA is proud to support the TBI and PTSD Law Enforcement Training Act. Local law enforcement encounters individuals on good and bad days, and for complicated encounters involving mental health crises, training is key. The tools provided for in this bill will help local law enforcement respond to and resolve mental health crisis calls as safely as possible. The MCCA looks forward to working with Rep. Pascrell to advance this important piece of legislation,” said Art Acevedo, Chief, Houston Police Department, and President, Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Law enforcement officers are increasingly on the front lines in responding to and intervening in mental and behavioral health crises, including individuals with TBI or PTSD.  Officers must be given the tools and training they need to identify and respond to mental health issues in the communities they serve. NAPO strongly supports the TBI and PTSD Law Enforcement Training Act, which will provide federal funding and resources to help agencies train their officers to recognize and identify symptoms of TBI and PTSD so they can better respond to these situations.  This Act will also study the effect of TBI on law enforcement officers themselves, an important step to more fully understanding the physical and mental health impacts of the profession. We thank Representatives Pascrell, Bacon, Rutherford, Cox and Demings for their support of the law enforcement community and look forward to working with them to see this bill enacted into law,” said Bill Johnson, Executive Director, National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO).

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