News - February 9, 2011

A matter of life and death

Police negotiator tells how she handles life-threatening situations

by Sandy Brundage

When Detective Christine Powell arrived at the Dumbarton Bridge, she saw a man perched on the railing with a noose around his neck, gazing down at the water. Nearby stood her fellow police officers and four of the man's relatives. "The whole time we're there, I'm thinking, 'please don't jump,'" she said.

More than an hour later, the man climbed off the railing.

A police officer for four years, Det. Powell began training as a negotiator two years ago. The bridge incident, which occurred on Dec. 11, was the second time she'd put that training to use.

The first time involved a man hiding inside a house with a gun, threatening to shoot. Although the danger was directed toward other people that time, Detective Powell said the approach to both incidents was similar.

"The first thing I say is to introduce myself on a first-name basis. Let them know I'm a person, I'm not there to exercise authority, that the police are there to help," she said.

Other officers on the bridge, including Menlo Park's Ed Soares and Nick Douglas, started building rapport, asking the man about hobbies and what he liked to do with his children. It turned out that a combination of financial struggles and a difficult meeting with a probation officer led him to think that suicide was the only way out.

"What I thought went well was absolutely the great team effort we made. We had other officers talking to friends, family, people who knew him," Detective Powell said. "Without a team effort it wouldn't have been possible."

The urge to help others that led Detective Powell to a law enforcement career didn't vanish the moment the man climbed down from the railing; she plans to check back to see how he's doing.

"A lot of us are wondering," she said. "But we know it's going to take a while before he's OK."


There are no comments yet for this post

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields