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November 29, 2021

Trone’s Bill Tackles First Responders’ Mental Health

Credit: Conduit Street – Maryland Association of Counties, D’Paul Nibber

On Thursday, November 18th, President Joe Biden signed into law Congressman David Trone’s Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support (COPS) Counseling Act (H.R. 3070), creating more peer counseling programs for first responders and improving standards of confidentiality.

The bill was inspired by the tragic suicide of a Montgomery County police officer, Thomas “T.J.” Bomba, in 2019. Congressman Trone explained the significance of the COPS Counseling Act’s passage in a press release:

“Our first responders experience more trauma in one week than the average person does in a lifetime,” said Congressman Trone. “The COPS Counseling Act ensures that every first responder has a safe space to deal with the stress and pressure of their jobs. The benefits of this legislation are two-fold: it will help our frontline officers access resources to improve their mental health, and it will certainly lead to better policing and safer communities. We must do right by our first responders and the legacy of Officer Bomba. This bill will do just that.”

A Herald-Mail article quotes a Maryland police official on the COPS Counseling Act and the struggles his fellow officers face:

“Hagerstown Police Chief Paul Kifer said the act ‘acknowledges the stigma that first responders face related to mental health services. In our line of work, we experience so much trauma and deal with horrific moments in our society from fatal traffic accidents, to child abuse cases, to homicides,’ Kifer said… ‘It is not hard to imagine why law enforcement personnel deal with suicidal thoughts given the stress of the job, but many of us don’t seek the help we need. Accessing mental health services is vital to our long term health and wellness and this legislation will address this need.’”

The Herald-Mail adds that stigma associated with mental health services is a barrier to care for police officers. The article notes, “officers… identified stigma associated with mental health support, and the idea that the public could potentially access sensitive personal information, as the major barriers to using peer support groups.”