Local police officers responding to 911 calls in the Shreveport area sometimes encounter people suffering mental breakdowns, often leading to tragic results. KSLA’s Breakdown: The Frontline Response to the Mental Health Crisis documentary led to a change in how the area’s first responders react to psychiatric emergencies.
Three men, suffering mental breakdowns, were shot and killed by local police officers responding to 911 calls in the Shreveport, La., area in 2020.
KSLA’s coverage of one of these men, killed in police custody, earned the station a 2021 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award in the Continuing Coverage category.
Mark Klein, KSLA’s senior marketing producer, says the Gray-owned CBS affiliate was able to obtain cellphone video of the encounter with police, who were placed on administrative leave after the story aired.
That was the spark that led KSLA to produce an hour-long documentary, Breakdown: The Frontline Response to the Mental Health Crisis.
“These situations are happening all too frequently in our area,” says Jayne Ruben, KSLA’s news director. “Police just really aren’t equipped to handle people who are having mental health crises.”
The documentary aired commercial-free on KSLA in early February, replacing its regularly scheduled 6 p.m. newscast. Such a preemption is highly unusual for a local TV station, and it’s especially rare to air an hour-long documentary without any commercials.
“We determined that the story needed to be told uninterrupted,” Ruben says.
Ruben says Breakdown held its “audience for the entire hour. It really showed that the audience was engaged in the program and this was information that they wanted to consume.”
Marketing the documentary began with a preview on KSLA that aired after the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.
In addition, the station heavily promoted the special with this 30-second spot.
Stacey Cameron, KSLA’s chief investigative reporter, executive produced Breakdown.
Cameron says he and Ruben didn’t just want the documentary to highlight the problems, but offer solutions.
Cameron says police and paramedics are often called to scenes where they are asked to be “street psychologists,” a role for which they have little training.
This led to a follow up 30-minute special, Breakdown: The Response, which aired on May 13 at 6 p.m.
Klein says after the original documentary aired, local police developed “a dedicated mental health unit that would soon get dispatched to psychiatric emergencies in our city. They even gave us credit, saying that our film started the conversation that needed to happen.”
Ruben adds: “Because of the problems and solutions that we highlighted, they moved a little quicker because they realized this was something that the community really needed.”
Breakdown: The Frontline Response to the Mental Health Crisis
Click here to watch Part 1 of Breakdown: The Response
Click here to watch Part 2 of Breakdown: The Response
Click here to watch Part 3 of Breakdown: The Response
Click here to watch KSLA follow up story about crisis intervention training.
Click here for additional video content related to Breakdown: The Frontline Response to the Mental Health Crisis.
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