Presiding Officer of the Nassau County Legislature Richard Nicolello announced a pair of proposed bills designed to create an Office of Mental Health and Wellness in both the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) and the sheriff’s department.
“The concept is to provide a formal structure for the support services for our officers and corrections officers who are having mental health issues arising out of the job or not related to the job,” Nicolello said.
The move comes after reports that nine New York Police Department (NYPD) officers have died by suicide in 2019, including a spike of seven since June. At least two of those police officers made their home in Nassau County. Nicolello said the NYPD suicide cluster has helped push the proposals.
“That heightened the awareness of it,” Nicolello said. “When we looked at the statistics in terms of drafting the legislation, with the number of suicides among officers in general the support is certainly warranted.”
More police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, according to a study from the Ruderman Family Foundation. In 2017, the study reported that there were at least 140 suicides among police officers, compared to 129 deaths in the line of duty.
As the bills currently stand, the offices would help law enforcement employees receive counseling and form peer support groups to talk out their issues among co-workers with similar experiences. They would be responsible for producing annual mental health action plans and creating a smartphone app to provide access to emergency services, similar to the recently-unveiled Nassau C.A.R.E.S. application that provides referrals and assistance to county residents struggling with addiction.
The services provided would be available to any Nassau County resident working in law enforcement, not just employees in the county’s departments, Nicolello said.
Nassau County Detectives Association President John Wighaus said the county’s detectives encounter hazards on the job that can be especially harmful to their well-being.
“Detectives see and investigate crimes like vicious murders, rapes and child exploitation that most people don’t see in their lifetime,” Wighaus said. Those issues are sometimes exacerbated by long-standing taboos among police officers about coming forward and discussing their problems, Wighaus added.
The proposed bills are set to appear before the committee on Sept. 9 and before the full Legislature on Sept. 20. Nicolello expects they will receive bipartisan support within the body.