The woman who leads the police mental health SWAT team in post-Katrina New Orleans will be the keynote speaker at a one-day conference on mental health issues Wednesday, April 7, at the University of St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus.

Cecile Watters Tebo, a social worker turned police officer, will discuss “Lessons from Katrina: A Journey from the Streets” in Thornton Auditorium, Terrence Murphy Hall, 1000 LaSalle Ave.

Cecile Watters Tebo

Cecile Watters Tebo

The conference, “Addressing Mental Health Issues in Underserved Populations: Lessons from Real Life,” is sponsored by the Department of Leadership, Policy and Administration at St. Thomas and the Barbara Schneider Foundation, which is dedicated to eliminating the criminalization and abusive treatment of people with mental illness. The conference is for professionals, students and members of the community.

In addition to Tebo’s talk, the conference will feature insights from Minnesota criminal justice professionals, and panel discussions will explore crisis-intervention strategies and other topics aimed at improving services for those with mental illness.

The April 7 conference is the fourth annual Public Policy and Mental Health Conference at St. Thomas. For more  information about the conference, and to register, go to the School of Education Web site.

Tebo, a former New Orleans debutante who became a social worker working on adoptions, became a reserve police officer in 2000 and a full-time officer by 2005, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

A profile in MORE magazine described Tebo’s professional life this way:

“The administrator of the police department’s crisis intervention unit, she is the salaried chief of a motley, mordant crew of more than two dozen volunteers – nurses, housewives, students, retirees, and EMTs – who make up the equivalent of a mental health SWAT team. Operating out of a set of battered vans, they rendezvous with street cops whenever the radio calls in a psychiatric disturbance.”

Her job was made far more difficult after Katrina because there were more sick people and fewer places to take them. Tebo will recount her experiences from the streets of New Orleans post-Katrina. She was named one of “10 Top Female Achievers” by New Orleans magazine in 2009.

St. Thomas’ Department of Leadership, Policy and Administration offers a master’s degree in Public Policy and Leadership.

The Barbara Schneider Foundation was formed in response to the death in 2000 of Barbara Schneider, who was shot by police during a mental health crisis call. The foundation works with partners in law enforcement, courts, corrections, mental health, social services and health care systems to improve the responses to those in mental health crisis and to prevent future crises.