Podcast: To Respond or Not to Respond, That is the Question.

When I read the headline in the L.A. Times, it just didn’t quite compute in my pea brain. What the heck did it mean? Police fear suicide by cop cases. So, they’ve stopped responding to some of them. Mmm. Now this I wanted to read for sure.
It started out thusly–and ominously. “Before George Quinn wrapped a chain around the rafters of his wood shop and hanged himself in June, he had texted his sister goodbye. “This is the hardest part,” wrote the reclusive 63-year old master carpenter, who lived alone with his elderly cat, Sam in Graeagle, a northern California mountain town. “Sorry for everything,” he wrote. “You should call the Plumas County sheriff and have them go to the garage”.


“Carol Quinn dialed law enforcement from her home near Reno, more than an hour away, desperate for them to save her brother’s life. The answer she got was startling. Deputies were no longer responding to calls like hers because the situation could end up being ‘suicide-by-cop.’
“Go to the garage” could be a hint of an ambush, a deputy told her. “We were flabbergasted,” Carol said. “I think almost any one assumes that when you call the sheriff’s office for help, you’re going to get some help. And they refused to go.”

The article went on to point out that “Plumas County is not the only jurisdiction in California rethinking how it responds to suicide calls. Some small and mid-sized l.e.a.’s across the state have also stopped responding to certain calls because of the potential dangers to both officers and the person attempting to end his or her life.
“In too many instances,” one Plumas deputy said, “we show up and further aggravate the situation.”
“They also present a financial liability from lawsuits, especially if the situation were to turn violent.”
What struck me is that if other California agencies jump aboard this train, doesn’t that open up the distinct possibility that there could be really some truly huge monetary awards given to those families whose loved ones have committed suicide or otherwise harm themselves over the lack of police response. Haven’t the police been responding to suicide calls immediately or as quickly as possible? For what? Centuries?
It’s hard to fathom in my own, ever so humble opinion that “fear of violence” or “ambush” will truly wash in the big pull.
If that’s the case, “fear of violence” or “ambush”…then, hell, better start thinking twice about responding to a “man with a gun” call or “armed robbery in progress”, “carjackings in progress”…”road rage”…even “accident with injuries.” You get the idea.
The term ‘disengagement’ is being bandied about almost as much as ‘deescalation.’
Disengagement actually IS deescalation…on uppers…when cops actually do an about face at certain calls without confronting someone in crisis. These tactics are used most often when the person is alone and does not appear to present a threat to anyone else. And no obvious crime has been or is being committed.
I must wonder aloud how an agency would respond if it were one of their own in crisis or possibly suicidal, even if he or she were alone with nothing more than an elderly cat for comfort.
My bet is there would be as much deescalation as necessary and no disengagement until the issue with a brother or sister, officer or family member was resolved. Want to take that bet? To my way of thinking, if police would do as much as absolutely possible to talk down a fellow officer who is hurting…and, on the other hand, not even respond to a distraught sister’s call for help about her suicidal master carpenter brother, that seems to definitely meet the acid test. For what?…a double standard.
Talk about a can of worms. Better keep an eye on this one. If it starts in California, then trends have been known to move east like a gigantic Jack Rabbit on steroids.
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