'Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops' Explores Innovative Responses to Mental Health Issues

Rick and Christina Gables
Courtesy of HBO

In San Antonio, Texas, a small team of police officers are responding to individuals going through mental health crises in an innovative way and putting compassionate policing practices into action with dramatically positive results.

The film Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops debuts Tuesday, November 19 on HBO and shows their approach has a dramatic effect on the way police respond to these challenges.

The documentary follows Texas police officers Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro, who are part of the San Antonio Police Department’s thirteen member Mental Health Unit.

Courtesy of HBO

Chronicling their daily and sometimes harrowing encounters with people in crisis, the documentary shows how their innovative approach to policing, which takes mental health into account, can help diffuse dangerous, potentially deadly situations and lead people to critical mental health services instead of jail – one 911 call at a time.

At a time when one in five Americans has a mental health diagnosis and police are often the first responders to individuals in crisis, this documentay shows how techniques like active listening, building rapport and using non-threatening body language are having dramatic effects on the way police respond to these challenges.

Courtesy of HBO

During one of his first crisis intervention trainings, Officer Stevens was inspired to help establish the Mental Health Unit (MHU) after he recalled hearing from a mother who was afraid that one day an officer might have to shoot or kill her son with a mental illness.

Hoping to prevent people with mental illness from being criminalized, the San Antonio Police Department started their mental health unit as a six-month pilot project and soon expanded from two to four officers, including Ernie’s partner, Officer Smarro.

Ernie & Joe Crisis Cops, Premiere, Tuesday, November 19, 9/8c, HBO