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Pascrell, Bacon, Demings, Rutherford Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Trauma Training for Law Enforcement

Comprehensive bill will better prepare first responders for interactions with those displaying symptoms of TBI, PTSD

U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), John Rutherford (R-FL-04), Don Bacon (R-NE-02), and Val Demings (D-FL-10) reintroduced their 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).

“Symptoms of TBI and PTSD can be difficult to identify, which can cause confusion and preventable escalation. We need to better prepare first responders to identify these symptoms so they can properly assist individuals who are suffering from them,” said Rep. Pascrell, who leads both the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force and the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus. “The bill we are reintroducing today will help our first responders as well as those dealing with the every-day symptoms of TBI, PTSD, and other trauma-related ailments. I’m grateful for the bipartisan efforts of Representatives Bacon, Demings, and Rutherford, and I look forward to working with them to advance this measure.”

“It is crucial that law enforcement officers have the tools they need to handle the many challenges they face on a daily basis. In-depth training on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) must be a part of in-service training for all sworn personnel. As a former 27-year law enforcement officer, I am proud to cosponsor this legislation to ensure positive outcomes for everyone as we work to keep our communities safe,” said Rep. Demings.

“Millions of Americans suffer from PTSD or some sort of TBI-related injury, and over the years these symptoms have become harder to detect, particularly for first responders and law enforcement,” said Rep. Bacon. “This legislation will provide those who protect our communities with the crisis intervention training tools they need when they encounter someone in a domestic or civil dispute, who suffers from PTSD or a TBI. This bipartisan legislation will also enable our first responders to respond appropriately.”

“When police officers arrive on scene, it is imperative they are able to confidently and appropriately handle any situation they face," said Rep. Rutherford. “With increased awareness and diagnoses of brain injuries like Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, it’s critical our police officers are trained to recognize and respond to an individual who is experiencing a mental health crisis. This bill gives officers the tools and training to do just that.”

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 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.

“We know that approximately 60-80% of justice-involved individuals have a lifetime history of brain injury.  Given this significant statistic, it is imperative that our public safety officers receive training to ensure that they can identify and appropriately interact with an individual living with brain injury. These skills will ensure more positive outcomes for both the law enforcement official and the individual they are they engaging with. NASHIA is grateful for the recognition and leadership of Congressmen Pascrell and Bacon,” 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.

“We thank Reps. Pascrell and Bacon for addressing such an important issue – people with mental illness who are in crisis deserve a compassionate and thoughtful response from first responders. Every community needs their law enforcement to have the tools to better respond when they are called to intervene in a mental health crisis. We appreciate Reps. Pascrell and Bacon introducing this bill and see it as a step in the right direction,” said Daniel H. Gillison, Jr., CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

“Law enforcement officers sometimes encounter individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. The tools and training included in the TBI and PTSD Law Enforcement Training Act will help officers respond to and resolve these calls for service as safely as possible. The required CDC study on the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries within the law enforcement profession will also be an essential step in promoting officer health and wellness. The MCCA thanks Rep. Pascrell for supporting our brave law enforcement officers by introducing this legislation,” said Art Acevedo, President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and Chief of the Miami Police Department.

“Law enforcement officers are increasingly on the front lines in responding to and intervening in mental and behavioral health crises, including individuals affected by traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.  The TBI and PTSD Law Enforcement Training Act would make training and guidance available to departments to help support improved responses and outcomes to interactions between law enforcement officers and persons affected by TBI and PTSD.  This legislation also recognizes that law enforcement and first responders are among those in our communities who suffer from these afflictions and requires the CDC to do a study on the prevalence of TBI and PTSD in the profession. We thank Congressman Pascrell for championing this legislation and for his continued support of the law enforcement community,” said Mick McHale, President, National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO).

“This legislation would direct the Attorney General to develop crisis intervention training tools for use by law enforcement and other public safety officers when interacting with community members who have TBI or PTSD. The training tools would be instrumental with helping officers interact with those who suffer from these injuries, given that the signs of TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder often overlap with physical signs of alcohol or drug impairment, which complicate an emergency responder’s ability to quickly and effectively identify an individual’s condition. The training curriculum will not only better equip officers to ensure their own safety, but it will enhance their ability to serve and protect their communities,” said Patrick Yoes, National President, Fraternal Order of Police.

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