Compassion is something deep inside. An act of the heart and not of the mind. A way of being open to another person. Every year, we honor officers in the St. Louis area who demonstrate compassion in the midst of responding to a psychiatric crisis. These officers go above and beyond the call of duty to treat people with mental illness as individuals – as people with thoughts, feelings and lives – beyond that one moment in time. We recognize these compassionate men and women with the 26th Annual John J. McAtee Police Recognition Luncheon.
Some of the emotions that people in a mental health crisis are feeling include scared, confused, angry, sad or lost, or a mixture. They’re often not committing a crime. Many times they are attempting suicide. The threat of violence can loom. Yet, police officers are the first on the scene. Some officers are trained to respond to these crises, while some are not. Yet, what counts is how each officer handles what happens next. Thanks to the actions of our nominated officers, what happens next has in many cases led to happier endings.
The John J. McAtee Award is named for John J. “Jack” McAtee who became one of the youngest judges in the State of Missouri in 1930. He noticed that many people coming in and out of his court needed mental health treatment, treatment they might or might not get in jail. That’s when he began advocating on behalf of people with mental illness. Not content to merely pass down decisions from the bench, he initiated a law enforcement training program with MHA to teach officers how to compassionately and effectively assist people in psychiatric crisis. He also established this recognition luncheon that honors those in the field who are successfully following through on his vision. The luncheon was named in his honor in 1989.
John’s wife Marge also became a passionate advocate for people with mental illness and worked as a nurturing, caring volunteer until age 70. She started a volunteer corps at the state psychiatric hospital that grew to more than 350 people. She also served as a volunteer, board member and board president of MHA. Marge also started a local chapter of COMPEER at MHA, which matched people who had mental illness with volunteers from the community, giving each person the valuable gift of friendship. Together, John and Marge were a force for change that treats every person as valuable.
John and Marge’s sons Jim and Steve remain involved in our police luncheon to honor their parents’ legacy. Over the years, more than 500 officers have been honored since the luncheon’s inception.
As the fable writer and philosopher Aesop wrote hundreds of years ago, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” We’re so proud to honor the great, huge kindness of the McAtee family and these officers.