HBO premieres ‘Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops,’ an exclusive look into SAPD’s unit focused on mental health

A still from Ernie & Joe.
A still from Ernie & Joe. (HBO)

SAN ANTONIO – A documentary that chronicled two officers in the San Antonio Police Department’s Mental Health Unit premiered on HBO Tuesday amid national acclaim.

“Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops” followed Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro as they responded to mental health calls around the city with an innovative, passionate approach.

The documentary’s website called it "an intimate portrait of two Texas police officers who are helping change the way police respond to mental health calls.”

“The film takes audiences on a personal journey, weaving together their experiences during their daily encounters with people in crisis," the website states.

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The documentary sheds light on SAPD’s 10-person Mental Health Unit as police brutality cases remain a hot topic for the nation.

But director and producer Jenifer McShane wanted to divert attention to police officers “trying and succeeding in doing it right," the documentary’s website states.

KSAT 12 rode alongside Stevens and Smarro in 2014 as they explained their focus on smart justice, the hope of keeping individuals with mental health issues out of jail and getting them treatment instead.

“They are not in trouble, they didn’t do anything wrong," Stevens told KSAT at the time. “They are in a mental health crisis and we really feel compassion for them, compassion that they can be a danger to themselves or to somebody else.”

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The documentary received praise from The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and multiple film festivals across the nation.

It won South by Southwest’s special jury award and Independent Film Festival Boston’s grand jury award. It was selected for film festivals in Berkshire, Rome, Dallas and Nashville, among other cities.

HBO acquired “Ernie & Joe” in June, according to Deadline.

See the 2014 ride along below:

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