2021 | Government

Trone bill on counseling for law enforcement heads to president’s desk

Legislation was reaction to suicide of Montgomery County police officer two years ago

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U.S. Rep David Trone

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A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep David Trone requiring confidential peer support counseling programs for law enforcement officers passed Congress this month and is headed to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Trone, a Democrat from Potomac who represents Maryland’s Sixth District, sponsored the bill after a Montgomery County police officer died by suicide two years ago.

The Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support (COPS) Counseling Act would “prohibit the disclosure of the contents of a peer support communication” and require the Department of Justice to develop best practices and professional standards for counseling, according to the bill.

Exceptions to the bill include:

  • A threat or attempt of suicide
  • A threat of the person to harm or kill someone else
  • An admission of criminal conduct
  • Information about the abuse or neglect of a child or other vulnerable person

The House version of Trone’s bill passed on Wednesday, following the passage of the Senate version in June.

Trone has said that Officer T.J. Bomba’s death on Oct. 14, 2019, resonated with him strongly.

Bomba died of a gunshot wound on top of a parking garage in downtown Silver Spring. About 36 hours after the shooting, police said the wound was self-inflicted.

Trone told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that during a roundtable with first-responders about mental health issues that he attended after the shooting, he gained a better understanding of the stigma surrounding officers attending counseling.

“That was the biggest fear,” he said. “The police felt that if they were troubled with something they see on the job, and they probably see more carnage and scary stuff than we see in a lifetime, they didn’t want it to affect their move up in the ranks ….”

Trone, who focuses much of his attention on issues surrounding mental health and addiction, said Bomba’s death is particularly concerning because it’s part of a disturbing trend of gun suicides across the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost 24,000 people across the country die by suicide involving a gun each year.

Trone said he worries about more people becoming depressed during the COVID-19 pandemic. He pointed to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that 41% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder in January compared to 11% in 2019.

Trone said he hopes law enforcement departments will follow the confidentiality requirement for counseling, but if they don’t, an officer can seek redress by suing the department.

“The police officers overwhelmingly supported the idea of confidentiality, so I’m sure they’re gonna respect each other’s confidentiality,” he said.

In an email asking if Biden will sign the bill, the White House press office responded in an email that it would “forward this along to the proper person and get you an answer.”

Trone said on Thursday that he has “no doubt” Biden will sign it into law.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com