MILO Kicks off New Outreach Program with Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops

MILO Kicks off New Outreach Program with Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops


With a focus on the whole officer, MILO’s new holistic approach reimagines outreach potential for community—and officer—wellness and safety.

The MILO-Cognitive division, evidence-based curriculum, and outreach training resources built on the foundation of cognitive research, recently formed a partnership with the makers of the Emmy Award-winning HBO documentary ERNIE & JOE: CRISIS COPS. The film, directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Jenifer McShane, won the Special Jury Prize at the South By Southwest Film Festival and screened in theaters and on HBO at the end of 2019.


ERNIE & JOE: CRISIS COPS is an intimate portrait of two San Antonio police officers, Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro, who are helping change the way police respond to mental health calls. The film takes audiences on a personal journey, weaving together Ernie and Joe’s experiences during their daily encounters with people in crisis. Guns tucked away, these two compassionate officers de-escalate confrontations, divert people to desperately needed mental health services, and save lives. Ernie and Joe and their colleagues in the San Antonio Police Department’s Mental Health Unit are redefining policing and its mandate to “keep people safe,” while providing a model of how to transform the ways law enforcement across the U.S. approaches and helps those who suffer from mental illness.

The team from ERNIE & JOE: CRISIS COPS is actively working to build “partnerships with law enforcement and government agencies, police departments, behavioral health organizations, and educational institutions” and to host screenings and discussions in order to:

  • improve police/community relations
  • increase positive outcomes for those in a mental health crisis
  • support officers’ own mental health
  • encourage lasting police and mental health systems change


Last week Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office participated in the first MILO-sponsored screening and Q&A w/Joe Smarro.

“I was not surprised–rather encouraged–that yet another police officer, in another area of America, was asking me how to better foster relationships with the hospitals and treatment providers,” explained Joe Smarro. “We have to let go of the idea that cops don’t want what’s best for people suffering from a mental health crisis, and start to accept that it isn’t the type of person in the type of profession problem, rather it is a systemic failure. Sometimes the front-line officer is the most caring and compassionate part of the intervention–they just need more focused training for those types of situations.”

Confirming the importance of specialized training, Deputy Sheriff Jim Roy said, “I learned that we need to set up more resources and continue to train our officers in CIT. I am part of CIT in our area. I now understand better how other areas do this work.”

Screenings (both the full 95-minute version, and a shorter 25-minute version) are being used across the country to spark conversation and dialogue about the culture of policing and training, and how police departments can be better prepared to respond non-violently to people in crisis. Law enforcement and public safety agencies, mayors, attorneys general, and other city officials, health care workers, and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapters and other behavioral health organizations are engaged and involved in these conversations and this work, and MILO-Cognitive is uniquely situated to be able to sponsor screenings and provide follow-up training—including stress inoculation training, implicit bias training, and de-escalation training—designed specifically for the needs of the organizations involved.


ERNIE & JOE: CRISIS COPS shows how the police culture of the SAPD has changed since the creation of the Mental Health Unit, leading to an understanding that force is not always best and that a more empathetic approach can achieve better results. In addition to bringing dignity to the issue of mental health challenges, this film helps put a spotlight on the culture of policing by taking a clear-eyed look at how we train and support officers. In the first 5 years of the program, use of force by police declined from 50 incidents per year to 3 incidents per year; since its inception, more than 20,000 people with serious mental illness have been identified and diverted from jail into treatment.

“This film needs to be shown to academy classes, and other law enforcement partners. The more agencies that start teams like this, communities around the country will benefit,” explained Nicholas Burleson, Sergeant at WCSO. “Our agency already has similar teams, however, I enjoyed seeing how much more effective they can be when the officers have education–it seemed to make them more credible with CMH resources when they explained their MSW backgrounds”

If this is the culture that you want to foster in your own agency, MILO-Cognitive is the place to start. MILO’s holistic approach is much more than firearms training and use of force training. MILO-Cognitive can help you target specific training objectives with applied science solutions, supporting the whole officer and the complexity of their mission, including the before-and-after care of officers and citizens in mental health crises.


If you are interested in hosting a screening of ERNIE & JOE with the option of a panel discussion following, please contact:


To learn more about the film and to watch a trailer, please visit: