Federal Legislation – Congress Promotes Law Enforcement Mental Health

Darryl Nirenberg
Partner
Josh Oppenheimer
Associate
Patrick Northrup
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Amid Fourth of July fireworks and explosive political battles, with all eyes focused on clashes between congressional insurgents, congressional leadership and the disrupter in the White House, Congress quietly took time to address mental health services for law enforcement officers.

Most legislative action was packed into the week of July 8, although an important amendment offered by Representative Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) was included in the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) funding bill that passed on June 25. On July 11, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced the Turn the Tide Act, a wide-ranging opioid bill that also included funds for the psychological well-being of officers on the front lines of the opioid crisis. On July 12, the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act, a bill that would require the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to collect and publish data on law enforcement suicides, was introduced by Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.). The Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis (STOIC) Act, which provides mental health support for law enforcement officers, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 10 and now goes to the desk of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it. All of these bills are discussed in greater detail below.

Amendment Increases Funding for Mental Health Services

On June 25, the House of Representatives passed the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) funding package, which contains most federal funding for law enforcement. As originally drafted, H.R. 3055 contained $2 million annually for “training, peer mentoring, and mental health program activities,” to be distributed through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program. A PORAC-supported amendment offered by Representative Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) increased that funding from $2 million to $4 million for 2020. Reflecting on the amendment, Ruiz stated that he spoke with law enforcement officers who told him “what it means to put your life at risk and work in a really tough environment.”

While the CJS funding bill was approved by the House, it is unlikely to pass the Senate in its current form. Congressional leaders are currently working with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on a deal to raise the debt limit, lift spending caps and reach some sort of compromise on funding federal agencies.1 While this could mean that the bill is part of a larger compromise, and that the funding for the Department of Justice and law enforcement remains intact, it is also possible that the levels of funding will change drastically between now and the time a deal reaches the president’s desk.

The Turn the Tide Act

On July 11, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced the Turn the Tide Act, a sweeping anti-opioid bill that greatly increases the funds available for treatment services by $63 billion over the next 10 years. The opioid epidemic affects every community in America and is taking over 70,000 lives a year while costing the economy roughly $500 billion. Shaheen’s bill seeks to address and reduce this terrible loss of life.

In recognition of the stress that responding to the opioid crisis has had on law enforcement officers across the nation, the bill includes $10 million for “peer mentoring and wellness pilot programs within State, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies.” In a press release, Shaheen emphasized the traumatic conditions in which law enforcement officers often work, which have only been exacerbated by the scourge of opioids. The funding in the Turn the Tide Act is set to provide support for those who have been called on to serve as the first line of defense for communities across the nation.

The Turn the Tide Act has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act

Just a day after the introduction of the Turn the Tide Act in the Senate, Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) introduced the PORAC-supported H.R. 3735, the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act, which has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

This bill would require the FBI to collect data on law enforcement and former law enforcement suicides and attempted suicides, which would then be presented in an annual and publicly available report to Congress. Quigley stated that the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act would allow Congress and all levels of government to “better serve law enforcement officers, establish effective prevention practices, and save lives.” By targeting data collection efforts to understand suicide rates among law enforcement officers, the legislation aims to give law enforcement agencies, legislators and regulators the information they need to put effective suicide prevention programs into place. In 2019 alone there have been more than 100 verified law enforcement suicides, and law enforcement officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.2

The STOIC Act

On July 10, the STOIC Act, S. 998, passed the Senate by voice vote. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), tweeted, “With this bill, we’re doing more to prevent police suicide and get our officers the help & resources they deserve.”

The PORAC-supported STOIC Act updates the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to broaden the purposes for which officers receive support. Whereas the current law provides funding for only the nebulously defined “stress reduction” or “family support services,” the STOIC Act broadens the language to include “psychological services,” “suicide prevention” and “mental health services.” By expanding the listed services, the STOIC Act will more effectively ensure that law enforcement officers across the nation receive more of the support that they need to carry out their duties. The STOIC Act provides $7.5 million for these programs annually through 2024.

Now that the bill has passed both chambers of Congress with overwhelming and bipartisan support, it has been sent to President Trump for his signature. There is little doubt that he will sign the bill (although he had not done so at the time this issue went to print) and that law enforcement officers will begin to receive the expanded services provided under the legislation.

Supreme Court Weighs in on Issues Important to
Law Enforcement

The United States Supreme Court recently issued a number of decisions on issues ranging from political gerrymandering to a citizenship question on the census. While the ramifications of these decisions will likely be felt across American society, there were three decisions in particular more relevant for law enforcement officers and agencies. Mitchell v. Wisconsin dealt with blood tests of unconscious DUI suspects, United States v. Davis centered on the term “crime of violence” and United States v. Haymond grappled with the right to a jury trial.

Mitchell v. Wisconsin

The decision in Mitchell v. Wisconsin may well prove to have the most immediate effect on the conduct of law enforcement. At issue in the case was whether law enforcement had violated the respondent’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from a warrantless search by taking a blood test while the respondent was unconscious and under suspicion of a DUI.

In a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court found that, due to the circumstances of the blood test, law enforcement was justified in administering the test. Going forward, this means that if law enforcement stops a motorist under the suspicion of a DUI and that motorist subsequently loses consciousness, officers are permitted to draw blood in pursuit of their investigation.

United States v. Davis

United States v. Davis may have less of an immediate effect on how law enforcement conducts itself, but it will influence sentencing and may prove contentious. In a 5–4 decision, with an opinion authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court held that the term “crime of violence” is unconstitutionally vague, and as such the respondent could not be given an enhanced penalty for using a firearm while committing a “crime of violence.”

As a result, judges will no longer be allowed to hand down harsher sentences for certain crimes that involve a firearm, something that could lead to earlier releases for certain offenders. In addition to that narrower ramification, it is also possible that this leads to a change in the definition of “crime of violence” at the federal level. Representative Martha Roby (R-Ala.) has already introduced H.R. 3533, the Combat Violent Crime Act, in an attempt to clarify that definition. While that legislation is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled House, it is may gain traction following the ruling by Gorsuch.

United States v. Haymond

United States v. Haymond dealt with the fundamental right to a jury trial guaranteed under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

While on supervised release for a child pornography conviction, the respondent was discovered to once again be in possession of child pornography. Without a jury trial, a district court judge found the respondent guilty of a new offense with a higher mandatory minimum, ruling on a preponderance of the evidence that the respondent was guilty. With Gorsuch authoring the opinion, the Supreme Court found 5–4 that the respondent’s right to jury trial had been violated. As a result, law enforcement should be prepared to be called to testify and provide evidence in similar circumstances.

 

Footnotes

1          Kellie Mejdrich, “Mnuchin: Parties moving closer on debt limit, spending caps,” CQ (July 15, 2019).

2          “Quigley, Dean, Steube Introduce Legislation to Collect Data on Law Enforcement Suicide Rates,” Congressman Mike Quigley (July 12, 2019).