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Mental Health, Law Enforcement, and Communities: What's Next?

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As National Suicide Prevention Month draws to a close, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) continues to focus its resources on the critical question regarding how police respond to those experiencing a mental health crisis. There is a tremendous need to continue reflection, dialogue, and action on the part of government officials, law enforcement, and the behavioral health community throughout the year. The Emmy Award-winning HBO documentary Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops and its national engagement campaign provide an opportunity for this much-needed community conversation. While BJA was not involved in the development or production of this documentary, we are pleased to highlight this effort and the availability of the film to law enforcement at no cost.

The film, now available for free streaming to U.S. law enforcement and public safety agencies, is an intimate portrait of Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro, two San Antonio police officers who are part of a Mental Health Unit that is changing the way police respond to mental health calls. Through Stevens and Smarro’s personal experiences in their daily encounters with people in crisis, we see them treat individuals with compassion and nonviolence, divert people from jail, address their own mental health challenges, and save lives one 911 call at a time.

In the past 18 months, the film has been the centerpiece of more than 100 screenings and discussions (virtual and in-person) across the country that have enabled communities to bring together key stakeholders and the general public to improve police-community relations, increase positive outcomes for those in crisis, address officer wellness, and implement law enforcement and behavioral health systems change.

The documentary is now free for unlimited streaming to law enforcement and public safety agencies in the U.S. through May 2022. This means that any law enforcement agency across the country may access the film (both 25- and 95-minute versions) for unlimited use via streaming for 1 year by registering using the code: EJCC009WES.

Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops is perfect for law enforcement/public safety use:

  • In CIT trainings
  • In training academies
  • As a mental health crisis response skill-building and/or officer wellness events for agency personnel
  • With the larger community, which could include one's local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter and/or other local behavioral health organizations

More information and a trailer for the film may be found on the Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops site.

Although Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops portrays only one approach to mental health crisis response, it is one way we can spark dialogue about the complicated questions that arise as communities try to make change. What are the costs? Do we have the resources and people power to support new models? What kind of training or retraining of our law enforcement is needed? What are the risks to not having police involved in responding to these calls? How can we as a community better support the mental health needs of our community and first responders? BJA is proud to partner with an array of organizations through our Justice and Mental Health Collaboration (JMCP) Program to provide resources to answer these questions.

Through our JMCP Program, in partnership with the Council of State Governments, BJA has developed numerous online resources to support departments interested in establishing or growing a response program. In addition, through our network of Law Enforcement-Mental Health Learning Sites, BJA can support peer-to-peer in-person learning. The 14 Law Enforcement-Mental Health Learning Sites are available to help agencies looking to tailor successful implementation strategies and response models to address their own distinct problems and circumstances.

BJA is proud to be able to provide no-cost technical assistance to departments through the Law Enforcement-Mental Health Collaboration Support Center. The Law Enforcement-Mental Health Collaboration Support Center offers free training, resources, and support to communities wanting to improve their law enforcement and community responses to people with behavioral health conditions or intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In closing, BJA is honored to be a part of these important discussions. Our “Taking the Call" conference to be held October 20-21 will bring people together from across the U.S. to explore how jurisdictions are serving as laboratories for innovation to ensure that emergency calls receive the appropriate response. The conference will explore the opportunities and challenges of these community responder models and whether or how the approach may improve community health, lessen the burden on law enforcement, and reduce unnecessary justice system contact.

Taking the Call will be presented virtually.

We hope you can join us.

Thank you, take care, and be well.

Date Published: September 28, 2021