Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a senior member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) to introduce legislation to encourage the adoption of law enforcement peer counseling programs and protect the privacy of federal officers who participate. The Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support (COPS) Counseling Act would ensure that the information disclosed during peer support counseling sessions by federal law enforcement officers is kept confidential. The legislation also requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make a list of best practices publicly available on the department’s website.
“Law enforcement officers across the country sacrifice so much to keep our communities safe and healthy, and they often endure challenging and traumatic situations in the process. Confidential peer counseling programs provide an important mental health outlet for these officers to share their experiences, decompress and receive guidance. This bill ensures officers have an opportunity to participate in peer counseling with the confidence that their privacy will be protected. I appreciate Sen. Cortez Masto’s leadership in this effort,” Grassley said.
“Peer-to-peer counseling provides valuable mental health support to law enforcement, but a lack of resources and concerns over confidentiality remain barriers to entry for too many departments,” Senator Cortez Masto. “My legislation will give federal law enforcement peace of mind that the personal information they share with peer counselors will remain confidential, protecting them from any potential stigma or retaliation. It will also help provide first responders with the guidance and resources they need to pilot their own peer counseling programs. It’s time we support public safety officers across the country who are bravely seeking the mental health care they need.”
A recent survey of law enforcement officers by the Fraternal Order of Police and NBC New York revealed that 73% of respondents found peer support programs to be the most helpful mental health resource. Unfortunately, the survey also found that confidentiality concerns prevented many officers from accessing peer support teams. Several states, including Nevada, have passed laws to provide confidentiality for law enforcement use of peer support programs with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Modeled after Nevada’s confidentiality laws, the COPS Counseling Act would provide confidentiality to federal law enforcement officers who use peer counseling services, excepting admissions of criminal conduct or threats of serious physical harm. The bill would also encourage first responder agencies to adopt peer counseling programs by requiring the DOJ to make best practices publicly available on their website and to provide a list of training programs for individuals to become peer support mentors. Full text of the bill is available here.