Senator Vin Gopal is working to increase awareness for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and protect New Jersey residents living with this pervasive condition.
On Monday, December 17, Senator Vin Gopal introduced a bill (S3300) establishing a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Police Awareness Program that allows licensed drivers to self-identify as having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a severe mental illness that affects more and more New Jerseyans each year,” said Senator Vin Gopal.
“Symptoms of PTSD can, at times, present in ways that law enforcement officials may interpret as aggressive. This system allows law enforcement officials to understand the unique needs of individuals with PTSD and respond accordingly. By removing any unnecessary fear from an interaction between an individual with PTSD and a police officer, we can keep both our civilians and our law enforcement officials safe.”
PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population—about 8 million Americans. About 37% of those diagnosed with PTSD are classified as having severe symptoms, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Re-experiencing type symptoms, such as recurring, involuntary and intrusive distressing memories, which can include flashbacks of the trauma, bad dreams and intrusive thoughts.
- Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person might actively avoid a place or person that might activate overwhelming symptoms.
- Cognitive and mood symptoms, which can include trouble recalling the event, negative thoughts about one’s self. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed and have difficulty remembering the traumatic event. Cognitive symptoms can in some instances extend to include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is "not real.”
Arousal symptoms, such as hypervigilance. Examples might include being intensely startled by stimuli that resemble the trauma, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.
The bill would require the Superintendent of the Division of State Police to administer the program and is required to adopt rules and regulations, in consultation with the Department of Health and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, for the administration of the program.
Participation in the program is voluntary and allows licensed drivers to submit a certification form to a local police department to certify that the driver has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by the medical professional, and is required to be signed by the driver and a medical professional. The police department is then required to issue a decal to the driver.
Whenever any law enforcement officer stops a motor vehicle displaying a decal, the officer is required to take notice that the driver of the motor vehicle has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and is required to appropriately proceed with the motor vehicle stop.
The superintendent is required to establish and maintain a database of participants in the program, and make the database accessible to each municipal police department and to the Motor Vehicle Commission. The superintendent is also required to cooperate with and assist municipal police departments and other agencies in developing training, policies, and procedures to assist law enforcement officers in approaching and interacting with drivers who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.