The dispatcher was giving us the details of the hot shot as it came in. A hot shot is an emergency that is occurring this minute, that if we are available, dispatched and close, may result in a different outcome for a person, a victim.
The mother is calling in for her sixteen year old son who is being treated for depression. He is quite upset and threatening to jump off the balcony. They live fifteen floors up and he has one leg already over the railing. To top it all off, she believes he will escalate when police arrive and he is known to be violent. We are advised he is facing north-west as we approach.
Ralph starts the lights and sirens as he navigates through the traffic, mostly head-on into the on-coming lanes. We aren’t saying much. The recorder is on and traversing lanes of traffic safely and quickly requires we both be alert and at attention. “Clear” I say, giving him the go-ahead on my side of the traffic. We are both also quiet, knowing this can be one of the more difficult calls to attend. If the young man hears us or sees us coming, he might jump. Once on scene, whether we interact with him or not, we are accountable for his safety and welfare, even when we have not made any contact. That is what the public demands of us and we know this can turn tragic in an instance.
As we approach the building, we discuss how to approach so he cannot see us. Unfortunately, as we pull up, his mother is there waiting for us and advises he knows we are here. He heard the sirens. As we go upstairs with Mom to the apartment, she advises he is alone, having become violent with her, throwing things at her and yelling at her to “Get out.” She describes a summer, half-way done, that has been good. They have been getting along and he has a volunteer job he likes. However, today she said, he got upset with having to take his medication and is refusing to do so. After a few more questions we ascertain that a missed dose will not impact him that dramatically.
I look to Ralph, a little lost as to how to approach this. There are many calls whereby, the person jumps just as police arrive. In fact I recently knew of a woman, who waited for police to arrive. She knew her family would never believe she could do this and she did not want her husband to be blamed. She wanted it very clear. And she thanked the officers as she acted. Ralph looked at me and said “Send the mom in first and see if she can talk him off the balcony and into the apartment.” Although risky, we didn’t have a lot of options. Mom agreed and thought that it might work.
So there we stood, at the threshold of the doorway in the hallway, looking around the partially open door to where he and his mother were on the balcony. Although the male was upset and crying, he had both feet planted on the balcony floor and his back to the railing as he talked with his mother. A good sign. He knew we were there and he was making sure we didn’t enter the apartment. There was way too much distance to cover to try and grab him before he lept. We had to wait there and see what would happen. Both Ralph and I knew the implications should it turn tragic. We would be criticized for waiting in the hallway or we would be criticized for entering the apartment. In any event, we were now responsible for the outcome of this situation and we would be held accountable. And so we waited.
Our Sergeant joined us, the Taser inadequate and useless in this scenario. A small misstep or mistake and he could potentially topple over the edge. He was now sitting on the balcony and he was making agreements with his mother, who assured him we were not going to hurt him. Mom came in to get him a shirt and he stepped one step inside the apartment. He was still in the doorway, but after a quick exchange, we decided to open the hallway door and speak to the young man. “Can we come in?” Ralph asked him. He said “No, stay there.” and so we did. Mother returned with his shirt and he put it on. We asked him if he would mind coming out of the balcony doorway and we would just continue to talk to him from the doorway. He agreed.
I almost could hear the audible sigh of relief from this side of the doorway. We all had years of dealing with emotionally disturbed persons (or EDP’s as we call them) and recognized that we were now approaching the safety zone and he would want to negotiate. This is the point in our training where they always stress to slow everything down, take your time and not to rush. Proceed on your time, not theirs. It is what they drill into us because as our adrenaline spikes, we tend to speed up. But we could all smell the sweet scent of victory coming our way.
As we made connections and built rapport with the young man, we eventually and slowly entered the apartment, feeling with each step his reaction to it. Eventually he agrees to sit on the couch and then the real negotiations happened. He knew he would be taken to hospital, but he wanted to dictate the terms and conditions. As we haggled about ambulance or police car, I interjected myself between him and the balcony door. We had won. The rest was just routine as we prepared for the trip to the hospital with the son and mother.
I was very thankful for the peaceful conclusion. This time had been a win. It isn’t always. Ralph had known the young man and dealt with him before. He used that to his advantage and reminded him of the connection. I asked knowledgeable questions about his concerns regarding the medications and showed a knowledge and understanding for the state he was in. He allowed me to come closer. We came to a successful conclusion only because the young man gave us the opportunity to engage with him before he took any action. It isn’t always like that. Both Ralph and I walked away, breathing a sigh of relief and wiping the sweat from our brows. We were lucky this time. It could have turned out very different. These are sometimes, the worse kind of calls to get.