As a national conversation continues to focus on potential changes to law enforcement, local community leaders are exploring the intersection between policing and mental illness.
The weekly meeting of the Hispanic LatinUS Taskforce will be hosted at 11:30 a.m. Friday, July 10, by the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness, with a noon screening of a portion of the documentary “Ernie and Joe, Crisis Cops” at Hop Porter Park in Hailey and online.
The live event participation will be capped at 20. A public discussion will follow the screening. KB's Burritos will provide lunch for the 20 live attendees.
“Ernie and Joe” follows a “crisis intervention team,” or CIT, of specially trained police officers as they attend to those in need of social and mental health services in San Antonio, Texas. The film and following public discussion are intended to provide insight into this CIT model for policing, which de-escalates crises when police are dealing with someone with a mental illness.
“This event is about what we are already doing and how we can improve on it,” NAMI Executive Director Christina Cernansky said. “It’s about how our county law enforcement has already been stepping up to the plate.”
Cernansky said she has extended an invitation to members of the law enforcement community and hopes Hailey Police Chief Steve England will be able to join the discussion.
“Steve has always been a supporter for CIT trainings and NAMI for years,” she said.
Community organizer Herbert Romero formed the Hispanic LatinUS Taskforce primarily in response to requests during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the grassroots Hispanic-led committee is made up of Hispanic and non-Hispanic business leaders, nonprofit staffers, School District representatives and individuals.
Romero said the 15-member group has met to address the pandemic, recent protests over police reform and the 2020 census. NAMI is co-hosting the group’s event for July because it is Minority Mental Health Month.
Crisis intervention trainings were begun 30 years ago by police officer Sam Cochran in Memphis, Tenn., and designed in collaboration with NAMI. As part of protocols for the CIT trainings, a NAMI representative always speaks.
“I always ask officers at these trainings to draw a circle on the paper, and then draw a smaller circle inside that one,” Cernansky said. “I was raised in a military family and taught to always push forward and push through. When I found myself in that smaller circle after a friend committed suicide, I did not know how to find my way out.”
Cernansky said that thanks to a NAMI mentor, she came to understand that it “takes a lot of courage to ask for help.”
“All of our work and programs at NAMI across the board are about teaching people how to feel, how to cope. These are tools for success,” she said.
Cernansky said that due to NAMI advocacy efforts, many local law enforcement officers have been CIT trained, giving them the skills to “de-escalate challenges” and “create support and relationships for the most vulnerable populations in our community.” She said NAMI is working with the Blaine County Probation Office and other law enforcement agencies to find out how many officers have been CIT trained.
NAMI works with local police departments to encourage these 40-hour trainings for two to four officers each year, Cernansky said.
“Even though they want the trainings, the challenge is in finding time for officers to take time out of rotation for it,” she said.
The Hop Porter Park attendees will be required to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
Virtual attendance can be accessed by going to Zoom site meeting ID: 874 4082 9238, and using meeting password “table.”