Cops working a different beat
Three uniformed police officers were at church last night for a couple of hours. No onsite crime was in progress. Nobody was hurt. There was no break-in. These officers were on hand to provide commentary following the showing of a documentary film: Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, a film that came our way courtesy of St. Paul’s Mental Health Awareness Team.
Several impressions come to mind from last evening. First, I think of the dedication of these officers in their work as part of the Community Impact Team (CIT) for the Davenport Police Department. While they always have to be available for emergency calls and crises, they focus on community involvement, neighborhood engagement, and relationship building. It’s all part of an effort to strengthen neighborhoods, serve people, and reduce crime in the process.
My second impression is that everyone present for the documentary witnessed what can happen when a police department like the one featured in the film (San Antonio, Texas) has ample resources for working meaningfully with mentally ill people. Joe and Ernie, the two featured cops, have the luxury of working with a whole department of police colleagues who collaborate daily with mental health professionals. It’s amazing what happens when officers with sensitivity training – a national program called Crisis Intervention Training (C.I.T.) – are entrusted with the cares and burdens of people whose disordered brain besets them with a frightening darkness. Joe and Ernie make clear that it’s their privilege to try and walk someone back from jumping off a highway overpass, not their duty to criminalize an act undeserving of jail.
Third, listening in on the conversation after the film reinforced in my mind the need for local police departments like our own to receive not less funding but rather additional funding for being able to provide non-uniformed officers in neighborhoods alongside teams of professionals who are ready to serve mentally ill populations in helpful ways.
Finally, last evening’s event brought to mind all over again the plight of so many on America’s streets and, frankly, in American churches just like ours – people whose mental pains and burdens so overwhelm that they gradually enter a land of deep despair and isolation. My own brother, who was bright, charismatic, and talented before a paranoid schizophrenic switch flipped in his brain some 40 years ago, lives an unrecognizable life to anyone who knew him in childhood. I think of Jeff on most days. My prayer for him on many of those days is that if he should have an encounter with the police, that that encounter not be one of criminality but of compassionate assistance.
One can hope.