Friday, May 20, 2022

Ernie Stevens on HOLD YOUR FIRE (2022)

Opening today in theaters is the documentary HOLD YOUR FIRE.  The film is the story of the longest hostage stand-off in New York City history. It was a point at which all of the rules for handling those sort of situations changed since the NYPD was forced to alter their (non-existent) methods involving threats of force and to try something subtler.  While I was watching the film earlier this week all I could think was "I wondered what Ernie would think."

For those of you who don’t know Ernie Stevens is a former San Antonio policeman who specialized in crisis resolution. He along with his then partner Joe Smarro were profiled in the HBO documentary ERNIE AND JOE: CRISIS COPS. Ernie has  since retired from the force and he now tours the country  speaking on crisis descalation, as well as being the writer with Nicholas Ruggerio of the best selling Mental health & De-escalation: A guide for law enforcement professionals (Real cops training Book 1) .

I met Ernie when I interviewed  him, Joe and  Jennifer McShane director of ERNIE AND JOE when they were promoting the film.  After the interview Ernie and I fell into a conversation that has been going on for three years now.  Because of Ernie’s background I had to find out if he saw HOLD YOUR FIRE and what he thought of it.

In response he sent me back the short piece that follows.  While it speaks specifically to the film , his words also say volumes about where we are as society and how we view the police and the way they view us. When I read it I was deeply moved, partly because I could relate to what he was saying as someone who works in the criminal justice field, but also because his words speak to all of us.

I want to thank Ernie for letting me share his thoughts on HOLD YOUR  FIRE and on the state of policing.

I watched the documentary and found myself at times angry with the police, denying racism and the disregard for human life. I also felt for the officers that watched a fellow member of the department shot and killed. Senseless crimes can lead to horrible outcomes for everyone involved, no matter what side of the incident you find yourself on. 

I felt a real connection to Dr. Harvey and his approach to human connection through active listening. I still use and teach the model that he spoke about in the film. It is mindblowing how far law enforcement has come but also how far it still has to go. 

Restorative Justice is an issue I strongly believe in and it can be a catalyst for healing. We, as a country, are so divided when it comes to policing in America and what that should look like. Racism is still a huge issue and implicit bias training is a check the box for many departments. 

I have faith in humanity, I have faith that law enforcement is still a noble profession. This film did a really good job describing the different point of views and the mindset of those directly involved in the incident. As a result of the racial tensions and the disconnect with law enforcement, the vicarious trauma spilled over into the community and they began to cause disruption during a tense standoff. This is where procedural justice is so important. The difference between legitimate authority and statutory authority is the chasm that separates this country today. Authority is given to law enforcement by the community, what we do with it is our gift back to them. 

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