Archive » December 24, 2008
ENDING A CRISIS WITHOUT BLOODSHED
By Margo Kline, Staff Writer
Santa Barbara County’s negotiating team works steadfast to defuse crises and come to peaceful resolutions with troubled people.
When a disturbed person starts behaving in a way that threatens public peace and safety, a special kind of law enforcement is required — the crisis negotiation team.
This was recently demonstrated in Santa Barbara when Edward Van Tassel, a troubled Iraq War veteran, acted out his anguish on a freeway overpass.
The young man had a gun, which was later found to be unloaded and an American flag. He brought traffic to a standstill for nearly four hours on Highway 101.
Two Santa Barbara police officers and a county mental health psychiatrist discussed the work they do to bring such incidents to bloodless closure.
That means without harming the perpetrator, law officers or members of the public.
Sgt. Riley Harwood, a supervisor of the department’s crisis and response teams, and detective Bryan Jensen spoke about the interventions they occasionally are called on to perform.
They are members of the Santa Barbara Police Department, the agency that handles crisis situations for the city of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and the area’s California Highway Patrol offices.
Both men emphasized that they deal in “crisis negotiation” not “hostage negotiation.”
“We have a SWAT team and a crisis negotiation and response team, working together,” said Jensen, who was present at the freeway closure incident.
“The SWAT team is for the safety of the public, of the police and of the person who precipitates the crisis. We’re trying to bring the situation to a peaceful resolution.”
The fact that it was an Iraq War veteran who caused the freeway closure is not lost on the officers.
“It’s on our radar,” Harwood said. “We always are aware of dealing with it. We talk about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome; we see it more frequently in the national news and locally; we’re seeing more vets.
“We try to get on top of the situation ahead of time.”
“Then there’s the state of the economy,” Harwood said.
“We hear a lot about that. We have other types of crises, people in their jobs and violence in the workplace, violence at employment offices.”
When people are stressed, Jensen said incidences of domestic violence go up.
“One of the hardest things on a couple is financial hardship,” he said. “We also see more property crime.”
Jensen added that although the bulk of crisis situations involve men as perpetrators, women sometimes act out similarly.
Regardless of who is troubled, there are often other factors, as well.
“Oh, yes; mental illness, drugs, they can be factors,” he said.
When the situation involves someone threatening to commit suicide, the police must be especially intuitive and sensitive to the person in crisis.
“You have to talk in good faith because the person might try it again another time, and you might have to talk to them again,” Harwood said.
Jensen agreed: “There is no magic thing you can say, no script. Try to listen, understand and offer suggestions.”
“Each situation has some common aspects with others, but each is unique to the individual involved,” Harwood said, adding that not all are mentally ill; some are just seriously depressed.
“Most people threatening suicide are not absolutely committed to the act,” he said.
“They’re talking about putting up a suicide barrier on Cold Spring Bridge. People say, ‘They’ll just do it another way.’ But they may not.”
A full-on call-out crisis only happens a few times in a year.
Usually, a four-person team is sent to defuse the situation.
The yearly budget for the Santa Barbara Police Department is about $32 million, and crisis calls generally account for only between $7,000 and $8,000 a year, Harwood said.
“About every 10 years we have to update our equipment,” he said.
“And that can get expensive. But that’s only about every 10 years.”
Edwin Feliciano, M.D., is a psychiatrist who heads Santa Barbara County Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Services.
He spoke about clinical approaches to helping people in crisis.
Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services is a county program established in 2006 to meet the mental health needs of people in crisis.
“The county was concerned with the lack of urgent program services, so we established C.A.R.E.S., which was created out of that concern, to address mental health and addiction problems,” Feliciano said.
“We provided training for the police because many mentally ill have ended up in jail instead of treatment,” he added.
“It’s not a typical legal approach. It’s a wonderful resource.”
The program operates 365 days a year, round the clock.
“They send teams out to emergency rooms or the police can drop off a client,” Feliciano said.
“Our team can assess someone in crisis, improve their recovery and rehabilitation.
“They can arrange for detox if needed and continue it if needed.
“Alcohol and drugs are often involved with crisis situations.
“We have nurses and psychiatrists; they can get the family involved, help find housing.”
C.A.R.E.S. South is located at 2034 De la Vina St. (at Padre Street) in Santa Barbara.
Its toll-free telephone number is (888) 868-1649 and the local number is (805) 884-6850.
In Santa Maria, C.A.R.E.S. North is located at 212 W. Carmen St., and the telephone number is (805) 739-8706.
Reach Margo Kline at email@example.com.