3TV speaks to crisis negotiators who talked suicidal man off freeway overpass

Posted: Updated:
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's hard to forget the tense situation that unfolded high above Loop 101 in Scottsdale Friday morning, as a distraught, suicidal man perched on the overpass.

“When we first arrived, he was actually up on top of the fence, rocking back and forth, leaning towards the freeway,” said Officer Will Hathaway, a crisis negotiator who responded to the scene, along with fellow Scottsdale crisis negotiator Officer Kevin Watts.

“When we asked him what was wrong, he began to express all the struggles he was going through in his life; he was having a hard time,” said Officer Hathaway.

The officers, who have received extensive training in handling people in crisis, calmly began to talk with the man.

“The only way you can build a rapport is to start to talk to folks,” said Officer Watts. “Maybe we’re talking about fishing; maybe we’re talking about whatever. It’s genuine that we want to help, and we can make inroads to accomplishing that.”

In Friday’s case, they talked to the man for about three hours, building a connection and showing compassion.

“We’ve all felt lonely, all felt sad; we’ve all felt abandoned at different times, just at different levels, so sometimes the way to connect is to go to the closest place to that,” described Officer Hathaway. “Imagine how you would feel if you were in their shoes.”

Officer Hathaway said he made sure the man knew suicide wasn’t his only option.

“I’m not even sure we can say we were the ones that talked him into coming down; I think that was ultimately his decision,” said Officer Hathaway.

But, it was a team effort by police which allowed the man to walk to safety and obtain the help and services he needs.

“Not only do we not want this situation to happen again, but, ideally, we would want him to go on and have a fulfilling, easier life,” said Hathaway.

Statistics show suicide is more than homicide and the 10th leading cause of death, nationwide, according to the CDC; it’s the third cause among youth between 10 and 24.

With decades on the job, Officers Watts and Hathaway couldn’t estimate how many similar calls they’ve responded to, but their goal with each one remains the same.

“It’s just a people job,” said Officer Watts. “If we can help people, that’s what we’re here to do.”

Find out more about this division of the police department here