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“Ernie and Joe Crisis Cops”: HBO on November 19th

Do you remember the incident with Sammy Yatin on July 27, 2013 in Toronto where Sammy threatened passengers on a TTC streetcar in Toronto bearing a knife and exposing himself. He was shot down by Toronto Police Force’s James Forcillo by some 8 shots 5 of which were delivered after Yatin hit the floor. Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder and sent to the big house for 6 years. Several witnesses stated Yatin appeared mentally unstable.

“Ernie and Joe” is a documentary opening a dialogue about police and the mentally ill. Almost 20% of Americans are diagnosed with mental illness which to Ernie and Joe translates into 90% of police calls are ultimately dealing with mental illness. Currently at police academies some 60 hours are spent about how to discharge a firearm and 8 hours are spent on how to deal with mentally challenged individuals.

 Police mentality is geared to overreact to any situation individual with a weapon. It is as if all rationality is lost as the adrenalin kicks in and attempted or perceived force is met with over the top police reaction. It’s a classic Sammy Yatin situation.

Well Ernie and Joe are two mental health unit cops in San Antonio Texas. They deal with mental health issues not with threats and belligerent behaviour. Instead they treat the mental health casualties with compassion and empathy. They are patients needing help and not always threats to public safety.

Their journey is not always smooth as some senior police officers reject the “hug a thug” approach.

They treat their calls with patience and compassion seeking to obtain mental health assistance over the strong-arm approach. Their interaction with Kendra, a crack addict, ready to jump over the bridge is particularly on point. They get her help and follow up with her and the other mentally challenged people they encounter. It’s like they give a damn.

Even with this newly formed San Antonio Police mental health unit Ernie and Joe figure they can only deal with 5-7% of mental health calls.

Police cadets in San Antonio now receive 40 hours of mental health training.

Now Ernie and Joe are not exactly mentally well as Joe was sexually and physically abused as a child and is currently in therapy. Joe has also suffered from PTSD from his battle experiences in Iraq.

This is a simple issue but difficult to implement as Joe says he is trying to see the mentally ill and not pretend with them or use force to subdue them. Joe and Ernie respect their mentally ill contacts as patients needing help.

You can make this a very complicated problem or be mindful and treat mentally ill people with compassion and respect instead of drilling them with bullets. The simple solution will take years of training and practice to implement.

Ernie and Joe are innovative cops making an impact on the mentally ill and their families. I mean their approach is courageous and innovative yet so simple. Of course, what seems so simple when faced with bureaucracy begins to become so very complicated.

An inspiring documentary that showcases compassion cultivation as a better weapon than brute force and disdain of the mentally ill.

Jennifer McShane is the director of the film.

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