Crisis intervention: Police resolve incident involving suicidal teen

ST. GEORGE – While families gathered and played at the St. George Town Square on Monday, enjoying the warm weather and fresh air, police officers quietly and peacefully resolved an incident nearby involving a potentially suicidal teen.

At approximately 3 p.m., St. George Police officers were alerted to the presence of a 17-year-old male armed with a knife and allegedly making threats of hurting himself and possibly others, St. George Police Sgt. Sam Despain said.

Officers were able to establish contact with the teen in the field behind the Washington County School District administrative building and begin a dialogue, Despain said. While doing so, other officers cleared people out of the immediate area west of the carousel. Hostage negotiators were called in, along with the Police Department’s SWAT unit that was put on standby as a precautionary measure.

“Because he was potentially suicidal, our concern would obviously be for him as well as the other people in the park,” Despain said. “It’s a crowded area in the park on a holiday.”

Parents with their children and others east of the carousel continued to enjoy the Presidents Day holiday without much, if any, interruption; however, some who caught sight of the police nearby wondered what was happening.

Marcie Smith’s children were among those asked by officers to move to the east side of the carousel while they dealt with the incident. Smith, whose family was visiting from Pleasant Grove, said she wasn’t sure what was happening at first.

“I just noticed cops around the (school district) building,” Smith said. “I wasn’t sure of the seriousness of it.”

Smith, along with some other park-goers, said they originally thought the police were engaged in a training exercise of some kind.

Despain said responding officers successfully kept the incident “low key.”

“We wanted to make sure we did things safely without blowing it out of proportion and causing more alarm than necessary,” Despain said.

For at least 30 to 45 minutes, a police negotiator spoke with the teen who sat cross-legged on the grass. Along with the negotiator, other officers stood around the teen while also keeping their distance. At approximately 4:30 p.m., the teen stood up and began walking with police toward their cruisers parked nearby. Along the way, the teen shook hands with one of the officers.

“It ended the best possible way with no one getting hurt and this man getting the help he needs,” Despain said.

The teen was not arrested following the incident, Despain said.

In order to aid officers in dealing with incidents such as the one that occurred Monday, each officer of the St. George Police Department goes through what Despain called “crisis intervention training,” or CIT, a 40-hour weeklong course revolving around helping individuals dealing with mental illness.

“Our department takes a really strong stance in regards to training for those with mental illness,” Despain said. “The training is very extensive.”

Last year, the Police Department held its CIT course at Millcreek High School. Officers were put through scenarios where they had to apply their crisis intervention training. At the time, St. George Police Officer Cameron McCullough was involved in a scenario dealing with a war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“This helps us slow down, understand (what) they’re going through,” McCullough said, “get some empathy with their struggles because it’s not something they choose.”

Ed. note: Identification of the juvenile involved in the incident reported is withheld and his face obscured in the accompanying video for privacy considerations.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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2 Comments

  • ladybugavenger February 16, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    St George police are well trained.

  • sagemoon February 17, 2016 at 9:14 am

    I love to see media focus on the good things police officers do.

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