Madden Bill to Provide Police Officers, Firefighters and EMTs Access to Peer Counselors Advances

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Legislation Would Provide Confidentiality Protections for Emergency Assistance Programs within Police, Fire & EMS Departments, Public Safety Unions

TRENTON – In an effort to support emergency service personnel, such as police and firefighters, and how they deal with the stress and emotional turmoil from the job, the Senate Law and Public Safety approved legislation today that would extend confidentiality to peer counselors.

“Police officers, firefighters and EMTs are often witness to horrific crimes and incidents that can have a real impact on the individual’s frame of mind and mental health,” said Senator Madden, D-Gloucester and Camden, and prime sponsor of the legislation. “Having access to a colleague or peer who may have similar experiences can be a helpful way for someone to gain perspective on a problem and to heal.”

The bill, S-2840, would provide confidentiality for information exchanged between a peer counselor within an Emergency Assistance Program and an emergency responder. With this confidentiality would come protections against examination as a witness in any civil or criminal proceeding or in any administrative or arbitration proceeding.

According to an annual scientific study on police suicide rates conducted by Badge of Life (BOL), a group of active and retired police officers, medical professionals and surviving families of suicides, police officers commit suicide at one-and-a-half times the rate of the general population. The 2012 survey did find that police suicides rates have dropped within the last year, a statistic BOL attributes to police departments adopting peer support programs.

“These peer support programs can be a lifeline for our public safety professionals who are struggling to deal with the stresses of the job,” said Senator Madden. “Having a peer to speak with could be the intervention needed to save someone’s life.”

An amendment to the bill approved by the Committee would extend peer counselors to not only include members of the law enforcement agencies, EMS units or fire departments, but also representatives from collective bargaining units or organizations that represent law enforcement officers or firefighters.

The bill was approved in Committee with a vote of 5-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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