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by Lauren Wissot
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at this year’s SXSW, Jennifer McShane’s Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops is an eye-opening look at the game-changing San Antonio Police Department’s Mental Health Unit through the daily activities of two of its humble leaders. It’s also a master class in policing done right.
Glance - Protagonists - Film - Title - Cops
At first glance the partners-in-fighting-crime protagonists of the film’s title seem straight from Cops central casting — hetero white macho males, one a military vet. But McShane swiftly disabuses us of any preconceived notions we might have with her very first, quite shocking scene, one in which the unassuming heroes respond to a call to escort a distressed schizophrenic man from a government building. Rather than go in with guns blazing the crisis cops do the exact opposite — casually chat with the man while calmly hanging back, ask him what’s wrong rather than telling him what he must do. In short order the two plain-clothed strangers have managed to firmly gain the hallucinating guy’s trust — enough that he just simply walks out the door with them. No handcuffs, let alone tasers, required.
For Ernie and Joe are he-man poster boys for the radical idea that empathy is not only compatible, but necessary, when it comes to law enforcement. (Or at least radical to me. Racial profiling is indeed very real, and because of this a lot of us who only know police officers through cellphone video images have admittedly developed blue profiling in response.) McShane (Mothers of Bedford, A Leap of Faith) found the time to fill us in on her doc, and its place in the larger criminal reform conversation, prior to the film’s November 19th HBO debut.
Filmmaker - Story - Were - Ernie - Joe
Filmmaker: So how did you discover this story? Were Ernie and Joe always going to be your main characters?
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