With Kim David’s guidance, law enforcement support measures pass Oklahoma Senate

OKLAHOMA CITY – Now pending before the state House, a pair of Senate-approved law enforcement bills would, if enacted, streamline services and improve training, while also providing better mental health support for Oklahoma’s public safety personnel.

The measures, authored by Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, were recommended by the Unified State Law Enforcement Commission, which is made up of the state’s top public safety officials, including the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Commissioner, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) Director, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBNDDC) Director, the Cabinet Secretary of Public Safety, and the state Attorney General, along with an appointee of the governor, the Senate Pro Tem and the House Speaker. The commission was created by David last session. Their recommendations were highlighted as a priority in the governor’s State of the State Address in February.

Senate Bill 1612, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety Unification Act, would consolidate the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP), Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) and Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBNDDC) under the Department of Public Safety (DPS) in 2023. The bill would also create a Mental Wellness Division. David noted that Oklahoma is currently one of only three states with a split state public safety system.

“This bill is the result of months of work put in by this commission of our state’s top public safety officials, visiting with hundreds of law enforcement members from various agencies around the state to hear their concerns and ideas about how Oklahoma can improve recruitment and retention. The top needs were for better training, more career opportunities and better access to mental health,” David said.

“Unifying these agencies will address all of these and improve services through better collaboration and uniform training. We must ensure all public safety personnel get the same high-level training, so they can easily move from one area of law enforcement to another, giving them more career opportunities whether they’re highway patrol or want to go into investigations, drug enforcement or other areas. I’m proud of this piece of legislation and appreciate my Senate colleagues’ support.”

Senate Bill 1613 directs DPS to establish and maintain the Mental Wellness Division to provide mental health services and programs to public safety personnel and their families. The bill would authorize the division to enter into public/private partnerships for services. It also would establish a revolving fund and a not-for-profit foundation to raise monies for the fund.

“Oklahoma’s public safety members are some of the best and most professional in the nation, but these are extremely difficult and mentally taxing jobs. Unfortunately, many won’t seek help for their mental health because of embarrassment, stigma, or fear of career repercussions,” David said.“Depression, anxiety, addiction, and mental exhaustion are common for these heroes from the constant traumas they face, and that also negatively impacts their marriages and other relationships. Just as they protect all of us, we need to protect them and their families, which includes their mental health.”

David held an interim study in 2020 where law enforcement officers from various agencies around the state and mental health experts pointed out that public safety officers and other first responders suffer from much higher rates of PTSD, suicide, divorce, depression, and addiction than the public.

According to the Ruderman Foundation, 35% of officers have PTSD and 31% suffer from depression while only 7% of the public experience either. A 2018 National Fraternal Order of Police study found that more than 16% of officers have had suicidal thoughts, over 65% have sleep problems or disorders and nearly 61% have intrusive or unwanted memories, including images, sounds and smells from the traumas they have witnessed.

The study also found that more than 52% of officers have or are facing relationship problems. Over 90% report stigma keeps them from seeking treatment and also they believe the public lacks awareness of the critical stress in their profession.

S.B. 1612 was initially a close call. It passed 10-9 in committee. While most Republicans were supportive, some joined Democrats to oppose the measure. After that close call, Sen. David’s measure prevailed 37-6 on the floor, with five members not voting.

S.B. 1613 gained unanimous support on the Senate floor.

The bills are now eligible for consideration in the House where Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, is carrying them.

NOTE: Pat McGuigan, founder and publisher of CapitolBeatOK.com, contributed to this report. His detailed analysis of S.B. 1612 was published in the April 2022 print edition of The Oklahoma City Sentinel.