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June 30, 2020

Trone hopes more police use support programs

Credit: Cumberland Times-News, Brandon Glass

CUMBERLAND — U.S. Rep. David Trone has introduced legislation that would increase privacy protections for police officers in peer counseling programs by creating clear standards for confidentiality.

The proposed Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support Counseling Act comes after a Fraternal Order of Police survey showed that 73% of officers surveyed viewed “peer support as the most helpful behavioral and mental health resource offered by departments,” but that those surveyed also saw that a stigma exists around it due to concerns the public could possibly access sensitive personal information. 

First responders are often seen as stoic as they are early on the scene to tragedies and crises, willing to risk their own lives and be repeatedly exposed to difficult circumstances where not everyone can always be saved, said James Pyles, director of the Allegany County Department of Emergency Services.

“When a first responder looks for help, limited options for assistance and the stigma of seeking such services can be challenging,” he said. “This act will repair the way first responders’ mental health needs are addressed; outreach and confidentiality is needed.”

Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson also voiced support for the bill.

“Law enforcement officers are exposed to traumatic events on a regular basis throughout their careers. Deputies in Allegany County in one day can be called to assist in vehicle accidents, drug overdoses and other unimaginable situations, all while putting on a brave face,” Robertson said. “There is a stigma that getting help to navigate these difficult situations is a sign of weakness but, in fact, it is a sign of strength, and I believe that peer support through speaking with other deputies or officers who know the job is a vital part in keeping our department’s employees safe.”

The bill currently holds support from Blue HELP, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, National Association of Police Organizations, and the International Union of Police Association.

“The most important thing is, our cops have a tough job. Jim Pyles said it takes a tremendous mental fortitude. Their lives are right on the line every day, and they see so many things that can really affect your mental health,” Trone (D-Md.) said. “From accidents, people taking their own lives, now we have COVID-19, we see all the addiction training, drug overdoses, unimaginable situations and we need a way to help address where law enforcement officers can feel confident to talk to folks.”

The bill came about after a police officer in Montgomery County took his own life while on duty, Trone said. 

“This bill will reduce stigma, allow people to talk about these matters. This is the right time to step up and help and support policemen, our fire and our first responders,” Trone said. “In times of crisis, they’re there to support us and our families.”

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) is a co-lead sponsor on the bill, which Trone believes will have the kind of bipartisan support needed to pass through the House and Senate.

“My background is as a businessman, always focused on working bipartisan — all my bills on opioids and mental health are bipartisan,” Trone said. “I’m very confident this bill will pass the House and be signed by President Trump and make everybody safer.”