Talking a jumper down
March 6, 2014 By Tom Hart
Police are called to a high rise apartment. The caller reports that a man is standing on the edge of a 12th floor balcony, facing the street with his hands behind his back and barely holding onto the railing.
A crowd is gathered in front of the building when uniform officers arrive. An officer attempts to talk with the subject while another goes to the apartment door. The subject doesn’t communicate with either.
More uniform officers and a supervisor arrive. A perimeter is established, with limited success due to the time of day (4:00 PM) and heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the area.
The immediate action plan is to attempt to communicate with the subject through the apartment door. The other officers attempt to manage the crowd. Neighbors yell at the subject, some urging him to jump while others tell him not to – interfering with police attempts to communicate. This distraction is a challenge as it increases the subject’s confusion and frustration.
The tactical team arrives and sets up at the apartment door. A key is available but the subject has fortified the door. A command post is established and an incident command call is in place, including crisis negotiators.
After several phone calls to the apartment the subject finally leaves the balcony to speak with the crisis negotiator. This is considered a big step towards a successful resolution. The negotiator’s exceptional listening skills and communicating techniques provide the subject an opportunity to describe his feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and despair.
Understanding the subject’s anger, anxiety and humiliation over his recent separation helps the negotiator establish a theme of communication. The “loss of face” theme helps define the hooks and triggers and allows him to build rapport.
This is much easier said than done. During the conversation, the subject abruptly ends the call and stands over the balcony threatening to jump. An immediate call back to the apartment, with the subject getting back on the phone, is a good indicator that he wanted life more than his desire to die.
The negotiator continues to use good listening skills and subject assessment, picking up on his emotional state and hidden meanings. Stressing the positive elements, making the subject feel he is doing well and remaining non-judgmental helps develop trust and build rapport.
Trust and rapport increases to a point where the subject agrees to come out and meet with the negotiator for much needed help. He sees the tactical team prepared to take control when he comes out to the hallway and bolts back into the apartment and again threatens to jump from the balcony.
Another call to the apartment and the subject is back on the phone. He is very upset and feels deceived. The negotiator failed to explain the coming out or exit plan. A well prepared and clearly understood plan (not surrender) is a very important aspect of the critical incident call. It is seldom made early in the call, but using the correct choice of words, remaining calm but firm, explaining (in the subject’s terms) the arrest procedure, presence and duties of the tactical team will ensure success.
A well planned coming out procedure will reduce a subject’s anxiety and help preserve his/her dignity.
Learn about this and other negotiation techniques and lessons from this and other incidents at the Crisis Negotiators Course at the Blue Line Expo.
Tom Hart is the president of Canadian Critical Incident Inc.
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