“Ernie & Joe; Crisis Cops” is a multiple Award winning HBO documentary that follows two San Antonio police officers and their work to help persons experiencing a mental health crisis. It is estimated that 20-30% of a patrol officers’ call load involves some sort of mental health crisis. Ernie Stevens joins us to share his journey from a “regular” cop to one of our nation’s leading advocates for crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers. His book “Mental Health and De-escalation: A Guide for Law Enforcement Professionals” has reached #1 on Amazon.
Ernie was initially not excited about the training. His entire attitude changed when a community member shared her story. Her adult son had schizophrenia and she feared calling the police because the police may shoot and kill her son during one of his violent episodes. Her next statement really changed Ernie’s life. “But if you do show up and shoot and kill my son, it’s okay. Because you have a family to go home to and I want you to be safe. You will never understand what it is like for me to live inside my son’s illness.”
Ernie immediately became an advocate for establishing a formal Mental Health Unit. It took five years from the time he took the training before his Chief agreed assign two officers. When Ernie retired, the unit was up to 20 officers and more than 100,000 persons had been diverted. In 12 years with the unit, Ernie never once had to use force.
Ernie says that an internal mental health unit doesn’t only save lives on the streets. Establishing a better mental health understanding throughout departments can also reduce officer suicide rates. Joe Smarro, Ernie’s partner in Crisis Cops is a Marine Veteran and also experience childhood trauma himself.
TAKEAWAY: “Psychological trauma is a real issue for military and first responders. We have to normalize the conversation. If we don’t talk about it we are failing each other. “