Three new laws were designed to address officers’ mental health

The Texas Legislature in its regular session passed three bills designed to ease some stress points of police officers. The new measures, which take effect Sept. 1, demonstrate that elected officials are paying more attention to law enforcement’s mental health issues.

Sgt. Leurena Reese outlined the effects of each bill for the Badge & Gun.

Senate Bill 64 – which relates to a Peer Support Network for certain Law Enforcement personnel.

House Bill 1589 – which relates to paid leave for public officers and employees engaged in certain military service.

Senate Bill 1359 – which relates to adoption by law enforcement agencies of a mental health leave policy for peace officers.

Sgt. Reese said each of these measures will be welcomed by HPD’s Peer Support Unit since all three are geared toward easing some of the key mental stress points experienced by police officers in Houston and everywhere else.

Reese said HPD general orders affecting the resulting policies are in the works.

She said HPD is fully prepared to be an active participant in a Peer Support Network, due mainly to its pioneering of a nationally recognized program three years ago.

“There will now be a state network that oversees the peer support programs for law enforcement agencies,” she said, referring to SB64. “It is yet to be determined who will be the overseer for this.

“They will be working with the commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission to develop the Mental Health Intervention program for law enforcement officers. This is the first time that this has been mandated for the state and will take some time.

“HPD has already established a Peer Support Unit and a collaborative Peer Support network with surrounding police and fire agencies. We also work closely with the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT) and the persons directly responsible for creating legislation.”

HB 1589 covers the leave of absence policies for HPD officers who serve in the military reserve. Currently the police cov ers 15 military days per fiscal year. This new bill increases that 15 days to 22 days.

The new house bill states, “During a disaster declared by the governor, officers are entitled to an additional seven paid workdays when called to active military duty.”

“For HPD purposes,” Reese explained, “this would mean that employees would have a maximum of 22 paid workdays if activated for a disaster declared by the governor.”

As for SB 1359, she said:

“This bill will support officers if they are involved in traumatic event in the scope of their employment.

“The officer will be allowed to take paid mental health leave days to seek appropriate mental health treatment.”

The sergeant explained, “As far as I know, the amount of days that an officer is allotted has not been determined. In addition, who will decide when an officer can take the days has not been decided and how the leave is processed is yet to be determined.

“Last I heard HPD- Legal, Psychological Services and Command Staff were meeting to discuss this matter.”