The Negotiator Magazine

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Russ Moore

The call started like any others- distraught male perched on the ledge of a bridge, threatening to jump.   I was paged, informed of the circumstances, and began the one hour drive to the scene.   On the way, I ran through my mental checklist of things to do once I arrived, i.e.… officer safety, suicide assessment, command and control, etc.   Intermixed within these thoughts, I couldn’t help but think, “What would cause a person to kill himself/want to die?” 

I was the first member of our crisis negotiations team (CNT) to arrive on scene.  I found the bridge blocked by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and firemen at both ends.   Sheriff deputies were talking to a male subject standing on the ledge of the bridge, 300 feet over a rocky riverbed.   The Incident Commander (IC) briefed me on the subject, “Dave,” who was a psychiatric patient, suffering from a chronic back injury and addicted to painkillers.   His psychitrist was refusing to give him more pain medication and was also currently out of town.   Dave was nearly incoherent with pain and was visibly upset about not being able to talk with his psychitrist.   The IC also informed me that Dave’s wife and son were at the scene and being detained by the CHP at the west end of the bridge. 

One of the deputies’s told me Dave’s car was parked at the west end of the bridge.  I walked to the car to see if it contained any information about him or the situation.    As I approached the car, I saw a crying woman and a young boy nearby, holding each other tightly.   I immediately assumed this was Dave’s family.   Again my mind wondered about how they must feeling, watching their loved one engaged in such high risk behavior.    I looked into Dave’s older compact car and saw a handwritten note on the dashboard of the locked vehicle.   My blood ran cold when I read the opening sentence, “Tammy, I’m sorry for killing myself, but I couldn’t stand the pain any longer.   Tell Josh I love him- Dave.”    I immediately radioed my findings to my teammates and walked back to join in the team briefing and offer my suicide risk assessment. 

As I turned from Dave’s car to walk back up the bridge to the makeshift command post in the center of the bridge, Dave’s wife, Tammy, saw the large gold lettering “NEGOTIATOR” on the back of my jacket and began yelling at me, begging me to stop and talk with her.  I could see the pleading in her eyes and walked to where she was being held by the officers.  I began asking all the standard questions in an attempt to gain as much intelligence as possible about Dave and his situation.    Once I was satisfied I had a relatively clear picture of the situation, I thanked Tammy and turned to walk away.    It was then I felt arms encircle me in a bone-crushing hug.

“He’s a good man,” Tammy cried, as she grabbed me in a hug that squeezed me so hard it made it difficult to breath.  “You have to save him,” she begged, “ Dave’s all we have.”    Tammy’s voice trailed off into a torrent of uncontrollable sobs.   As I held her and assured her I would do everything possible to bring her husband home alive, a little boy came over and gently hugged my leg.   I looked down at this little boy who was being exposed to something children should never witness.   He looked up at me with soulful eyes and said, “Please Mr. Policeman, don’t let my daddy die.”    I broke myself from the family and assured them I would do my best.    “Give Dave this,” Tammy said as she handed me a bottle of Vicodin tablets.  “He’ll do anything for these.”  

I was shaken by this very personal encounter.   I went to my teammates and gave them a briefing on what I had learned from the family interviews.  I also briefed them on my discovery of the suicide note in Dave’s car.     Based on all the factors present in this situation, we advised the I.C. Dave’s risk of suicide was very high. 

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August 2006