Being a crisis negotiator for San Diego Police sounds like a dangerous job, but Rick Carlson said his tenure was no more risky than being a traffic cop or homicide detective. That being said, Carlson did have his share of dicey situations.

I interviewed Carlson, a retired police officer, as part of my article Sunday about how police handle suicide threats from the edge of a bridge.

Carlson and Wayne Spees, an active crisis negotiator with San Diego Police, said there are some guidelines to reducing the risk. Police and paramedics approach people cautiously. Suicidal people can be a risk to passing motorists, pedestrians, emergency crews and of course, themselves. Some people want to be shot by police and are willing to attack an officer.

“That puts everybody in a huge at-risk situation. Here you got a person who’s already willing to give their life, and they would also be willing to take your life,” Carlson said. “Those are the scary ones.”

My article focused bridge jumpers in response to a few recent incidents. Police said they stay at a distance from the potential jumpers for safety reasons. First, jumpers might attempt to take an officer with them over the side. And second, the officer might instinctively grab jumpers and end up falling over the side, too. Carlson told me about one of his calls to the Coronado Bridge.

“I pulled up to the Coronado Bridge and there was a man sitting on the bridge, a construction worker — a really strong, muscular guy. Another police officer pulled up from another agency and he told the guy, ‘Get off the bridge right now.’ The guy said, ‘OK, we’ll both go.’ “

Carlson said the construction worker grabbed the other police officer’s arm and tried pulling him over the edge. Carlson and the officer wrestled with the man to stay alive and eventually restrained him.

Police ask that people keep their distance from any person who is threatening to commit suicide and call 911.


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