More federal funding for law enforcement officers’ mental health is a must

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a majority of police officers face a risk of alcohol abuse, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and one in four have considered suicide.

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Officers salute as an ambulance passes by carrying the body of a Chicago Police officer who was found dead in an apparent suicide at the Homan Square facility in July 2020.

Officers salute as an ambulance passes by carrying the body of a Chicago Police officer who was found dead in an apparent suicide at the Homan Square facility in July 2020.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago has one of the highest rates of police officer suicide in the country.According to a 2017 Department of Justice report, the Chicago Police Department suicide rate was 60% higher than the national average among law enforcement.

The Chicago Sun-Times recently shared the stories of CPD Officers Paul Escamilla and Jeff Troglia, who lost their lives to suicide.

During his 17 years with the department, Officer Escamilla would put a jersey on over his police uniform when he drove to work “because he was scared somebody would retaliate against him,” his widow Anastasia “Stacy” Escamilla said, describing the toll the job took on her late husband’s mental health because of 12-hour days, canceled days off and the negative public perception of law enforcement.

Julie Troglia, Officer Troglia’s widow, painted a similar picture of an unsustainable lifestyle.

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Officer Escamilla died by suicide in September 2019, leaving behind his wife and three young children.Less than two years later, Officer Troglia similarly left behind his wife and their three young children.

It is no coincidence that these two families share such similar stories about the reality law enforcement officers and their families face.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a majority of police officers face a risk of alcohol abuse, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and one in four have considered suicide.In fact, more officers die by suicide than in the line of duty.

As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am in a position to take action on these tragic stories.I supported the American Rescue Plan, which passed Congress last year and included $360 billion in funding that state and local governments could use to support law enforcement.But there’s more work to be done, particularly when it comes to mental health support.In the coming days, we will do just that.

During Police Week, which is May 15-21 this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee has traditionally voted on bipartisan bills to support law enforcement.Last May, I led my first Police Week markup as chair of the committee and, working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we advanced bills that were signed into law by President Joe Biden.

It is noteworthy that Police Week falls during Mental Health Awareness Month.With the stories of the Escamilla and Troglia families at the forefront of my mind, the Judiciary Committee will once again this year use this time as an opportunity not just to pause and honor our law enforcement officers and their families, but also to take action to improve their lives and livelihoods.

My committee will consider a number of bills, including the Public Safety Officer Support Act.Led by my colleague, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., this bipartisan legislation would extend the benefits of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program to mental health incidents, recognizing suicide as a “line of duty” death and designating PTSD as a line of duty injury.

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We must also ensure our first responders have robust preventative care and treatment. To this end, we will also take up the Fighting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act of 2022, which directs the attorney general to propose programs to treat and prevent job-related stress disorders for public safety officers.

We will also consider the Invest to Protect Act, which would direct more than $250 million towards law enforcement de-escalation training, domestic violence training, officer safety, equipment, mental health support, recruitment and retention; the Strong Communities Act, which supports local law enforcement recruiting from within the communities they serve; and the Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act, which would provide further federal support for local law enforcement to adopt de-escalation training so officers can respond more effectively to people experiencing mental or behavioral crises.

With our country in the midst of sometimes heated discussions about how to best ensure accountability in law enforcement and make our communities safer, it is important that we continue offering support for law enforcement officers who serve us with dignity and integrity.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

Dick Durbin is a U.S. senator from Illinois.

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