The Negotiator Magazine

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Dave did not want to talk to us and was paranoid of anyone approaching him.    I assured Dave I had no intention of coming too close or attempting to grab him from his position on the bridge ledge.   I could see the desperation in Dave’s eyes as he fought through the pain in his back and his ambivilious about killing himself.   This is the classic struggle all negotiators see in subjects who struggle with the demons trying to convince them to kill themselves and the angels looking out for them, instilling the overwhelming will to live.   I have seen the demons win before, but also knew most people have a desire to live, but just need help seeing through the darkness of the tunnel that’s clouding their vision or thoughts. 

“Go away and leave me alone,”  Dave screamed.   I stopped at a safe distance and opened what I hoped would be life saving dialog with him.  “Dave, it scares me with you on the railing,” I honestly told him, “would you please do me a favor and stand on the bridge so I can talk with you?”    Dave looked at me for several long moments and slowly stepped down from the railing onto the bridge roadway.     I quickly thanked him for this gesture and began talking with him about his situation.     I asked a lot of inquisitive questions, hoping to get him to talk.   The information he told me verified the information we had already obtained.   He was very upset and felt abandoned by his psychitrist.  Dave told me he had been trying to get an appointment with the psychiatrist, who refused to schedule anything.     He said his back pain was becoming increasingly excruciating and was consuming his life.    “I don’t know how I’ll function without my Vicodin?” Dave seemed to wonder. 

I reached into my pocket and produced the bottle of Vicodin, his wife, Tammy, had given me and showed it to Dave.   “I have Vicodin right here,” I said as I shook the bottle so he could hear the rattle of the pills.     We stood there looking at each other- him wanting the Vicodin- me wanting him to walk off the bridge.    Two people with different wants and needs, thrown together in a drama of life and death.    I could see in Dave’s eyes the conflict of life and death.   The demons were demanding their dues and the angels were struggling to be heard through the din, trying to will Dave to take the Vicodin and live to fight another day.    I thought I saw the will to live come through, when suddenly Dave looked at me and said, “Tell them I’m sorry.”    Unexpectedly, Dave then turned and dove over the railing into eternity. 

I stood there fixated on the last spot Dave had been standing.   I still had not grasped what had just occurred.    I momentarily could not fathom what Dave had just done.     We had a connection, my mind screamed.    I selfishly wondered why he did this to me?    I quickly recovered from this thought as I gazed down the bridge and saw that Tammy and Josh had also seen Dave jump to his death.    I now felt the guilt of letting down Tammy and Josh.    I looked into the eyes of my fellow teammates and didn’t hear the expressions of support they had given me in the past.   My only thought was that I had failed the team.  I continued to walk off the bridge passed the firemen and CHP.   None of them said anything as they uncomfortably walked passed me.  I let them down also my thoughts convinced me. 

I saw Tammy and Josh and realized I had to walk past them to get to my car.   There was no way of avoiding this encounter as they both were staring at me.   I did not know what reaction to expect and braced for the unexpected.  Suddenly, Tammy reached out and hugged me tighter then she had previously.   She began crying and through her tears, she kept repeating, “Thank you… thank you for trying.”   We held each other and I didn’t say a word.    When she released me, Tammy looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re a Hero.  You did the best you could for Dave.  Sleep well in that thought.”   She then turned to Josh who was watching us and said, “Josh, thank the nice policeman.”   Josh stepped up and extended his small hand to shake mine.   “Thank you, Mr. Policeman.   Thank you for helping my Dad.” 

People have free will.   They can exercise that will in many ways and sometimes those ways are self-destructive.    Crisis negotiators exist to help those individuals who sometimes lose their way.  Sometimes they choose not to accept our help.   That is their choice, not ours.   It just took a little boy on a wind swept bridge to remind me of that fact. 

Russ Moore has been with the San Diego Sheriff Department for over 26 years.    He currently holds the rank of Sergeant and is assigned to Investigations.     During his career Russ has been assigned to Detentions, Patrol, K-9, SWAT, Scuba Diving, and Investigations.    He has been assigned to The Crisis Negotiations Team for 16 years and has been involved in over 200 incidents.    Russ holds a MS in Forensic Science and is a POST Master Instructor (Thesis project- Responding to Suicides in Progress).  Russ can be contacted at 

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August 2006