Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive July  4, 2008)

A Bridge Too Far (for some people)

By Bob Cooper



Media coverage of the closure of the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge July 1st so that the Vancouver Police could rescue a suicidal woman ran pretty much as expected.  The vast majority of the comments from the public lauding the VPD for doing what it took to save this woman’s life.  A few barbs from the usual cop-haters and the uninformed that cops deal with their entire careers.  All of which were dwarfed by the following quotes attributed to Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon in today’s Province:

Transport Minister Kevin Falcon has slammed the Vancouver police for shutting the Second Narrows bridge for six hours while they helped a suicidal woman.

"I think this is a good example of how not to do things," said Falcon. "I want answers.

"It was a terrible situation. I was very unhappy with how the Vancouver Police Department handled it.

"I am utterly perplexed how it can take six hours to deal with an elderly female.

"In my view it is not acceptable and I am not happy about it and don't want to see it happen again.

The broader issue here is we have to think how we respond to issues like this much better."

A Cabinet Minister with his wits about him would simply have said “I want answers and I will be asking the Attorney-General to look into this” and that would have been fair enough.  The rest of his comments reveal both breathtaking ignorance and all the sensitivity of Rogers’ Wireless.  It’s as if he believes the police would simply close a bridge and inconvenience the motoring public as a lark.  You’d think he might have sought those answers before unfairly criticizing the VPD and stepping on a certain part of himself in the process.

OK Minister, here are your answers.  I served several years as a Hostage Negotiator and I’ve talked suicidal people off of bridges and building ledges in downtown Vancouver so, unlike the Minister, I know what I’m talking about.

Negotiating with a suicidal person is an intricate and very delicate process.  Those that do it are in the business of saving lives.  They are highly trained specialists who are sent to some of the best police schools in North America and hone their skills in regular practice sessions.  The VPD Negotiating Team have a very high success rate and that doesn’t happen by accident.  There is a reason for everything they do.

The most important skill a Negotiator has is his or her ability to communicate and win the trust of the person they are dealing with.  Common challenges they face include mistrust of law enforcement, drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and often it’s all of the above.  You don’t overcome those sort of obstacles in five minutes.  That’s why it sometimes takes six hours or more.  Any questions Minister? 

Moving on then.   As Const. Fanning said, they have to be able to hear the person.  They also have to be able to talk to the person and do so in a calm, quiet voice, rather than shouting.  They have to be able to do this without getting physically close to the person.  The reason for the distance will be obvious to anyone with a brain but for Minister Falcon I’ll explain.  These people may want to take someone with them when they jump and it’s not going to be a cop.

Success in negotiation requires that the negotiator keep the subject focused entirely upon him and what he is saying.  Any distraction hinders the process.  These would include horns honking, the brakes on a truck squealing, engine noise, etc.  All of this making sense so far, Minister?

Good.  Finally, the other reason we close both sides of a bridge is that, believe it or not, quite often motorists will taunt the subject with shouts like “Jump”, “Whatsamatter, got no guts?”  or “Get it over with”.  Surprised, Minister?  Well, don’t be.  I had it happen to me when I was trying to talk a guy off the Lion’s Gate Bridge one summer evening.  The subject was on the west side and a decision had been made to let Northbound traffic through.  When the shouting started we closed both sides and have been doing so ever since.

Oh, I almost forgot, Minister, all of those cops out there that saved that lady’s life, they spent the six hours in black uniforms with Kevlar vests, sweltering in the summer heat.  Not sitting in a comfortable, air conditioned vehicle like I’m certain you were.

If the Minister has any decency he’ll apologize to them and if the Premier has any sense he’ll send this putz to the dugout.  He’s a bigger liability than Basi, Virk, and the Carbon Tax combined.


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008