Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has sponsored a bill to begin dealing with the rising cases of mental health problems and suicides among police officers both current and retired.
She described it as legislation to collect data on the problem.
“This legislation collects the important data we need so we can see the scope of the problem and put forward the needs,” she said.
The bill was drafted after a roundtable about a month ago in Reno that included Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong, Reno Police Chief Jason Soto and Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam among other law enforcement leaders.
“The good senator proposed we begin a process of collecting data — how large truly is the problem and what are the options out there we can use to try lower those rates,” said Furlong.
He said he was pleased that the measure deals not only with on-duty officers but retired officers.
Furlong said in his experience, it’s a serious problem. He cited the shooting death of deputy Carl Howell in 2015 pointing out that the other three deputies on scene have all since left the department.
“The effects of a shooting can be career ending for many, many reasons,” he said.
Soto said his department has responded by naming an imbedded resources officer with a degree in social work. That officer’s role is to reach out to officers in times of crisis.
“It’s a lot easier for line level police officers to sit down and have a conversation with a peer than to sit down and have the conversation with me,” he said.
He said the purpose of Cortez Masto’s legislation is, “trying to move the needle, to get rid of that stigma and make sure our officers are well in mind as well as body.”
But Soto said they need to collect the data first to figure out where to go, what resources are needed and how to apply them.
Furlong said street officers see a lot of trauma that most people will never be aware of.
“It can wear the mental health of somebody down,” he said. “It’s PTSD, no different than when you talk about veterans. You try to suck it up but over the course of a career it becomes awfully hard.”
He said to his knowledge, Carson City has had three retired officer suicides in the past 17 years, including one very recently.
He said Sparks had an officer suicide recently as well so Cortez Masto is raising a timely issue that needs to be addressed.
Furlong said another group of employees who are in an extremely stressful environment are the dispatchers who are going from one intense call to the next and then the next.
Masto said she isn’t just concerned about Nevada peace officers because the state is far from unique.
“I’m not only concerned about this state but also what I see across the country, the concern about the high suicide rate,” she said.
She said it’s anything but a partisan issue and has bipartisan support in the Senate.