Police: Crisis training helped York County officers stop suicidal man

Brandon Addeo
York Dispatch
A screenshot from police body camera video shows officers speaking to a suicidal man near the Route 30 bridge in Hellam Township on May 6, 2021. The man, in the driver's seat of the vehicle, is pictured holding a knife to his throat. Police eventually convinced the man to drop the knife and peacefully surrender.

When a man armed with a knife threatened suicide earlier this year, officers convinced him to drop his weapon and peacefully surrender. 

Police said crisis intervention team training — or CIT — led to that successful outcome. 

Hellam Township police published body camera footage from a May 6 incident near the Susquehanna River. A man had threatened to jump off the Route 30 bridge into the river. 

Officers from Hellam Township, Lower Windsor Township and Springettsbury Township responded and eventually found the man behind the wheel of a vehicle at Route 30 and Cool Springs Road.

The car stopped in the middle of the road; police stopped traffic and officers waited a safe distance from the vehicle while communicating with the man seated inside.

More:Video: Officers speak to suicidal man

"Listen, I'm a crisis negotiator, all right?" an officer said to the man. "I want to help you out today. Let me help you."

Police soon learned the man had a knife, which at one point he held to his own throat. 

"We're not going to hurt you," the officer told the man. "I want to make sure you don't hurt yourself today. I'm going to take you to get help. I want to take you to the hospital today to talk to somebody."

Eventually, the man tossed the knife out of the car window, exited the vehicle and surrendered to police. 

Hellam Township Police Chief J. Douglas Pollock said the video showcases the "value of CIT training and professional, well-trained police officers from multiple agencies working seamlessly together to achieve success, which ultimately benefitted the person in need."

More:New wristband program designed to help York County police identify mental health needs

CIT training: CIT police training promotes safety for both officers and individuals in crisis, along with emphasizing treatment over incarceration. 

Many law enforcement officers in York County get 40-hour CIT training through the National Alliance on Mental Illness of York-Adams Counties. The agency's executive director, Desiree Irvin, said her agency has trained more than 600 York County first responders over the past decade. 

"It really creates a bond between the (officer and person with mental illness) and they understand what each other’s role is," Irvin said. 

Part of her agency's CIT training includes hosting roundtable discussions between officers and individuals with mental illness. 

"They can ask questions, learn from each other and strengthen that bond so they can go out and do what they do with a better understanding of mental health," Irvin said. 

CIT-trained officers can also help direct individuals and their families toward treatment resources. 

"These officers are working with the family, working with community partners and making sure they’re deescalating any situation they’re facing, but also are working with that person to get them help," Irvin said, adding that CIT-trained officers can provide individuals and their families with resources to get follow-up treatment. 

Ask for us: 911 callers in need of a CIT officer can specifically request one — which is something that not many county residents know, York County Probation Services Supervisor Katherine Gruver said. Police dispatchers also have the ability to dispatch a CIT officer to an incident when needed. 

York County's CIT-trained officers make up the York County Crisis Intervention Team. Gruver, who is the team coordinator, said the group is composed of members from all York County law enforcement agencies. Parole officers and some staff in the York County Prison are all CIT-trained. 

Gruver gave some statistics for the intervention team: 

  • Active members: 238
  • Number of departments involved: 20
  • Countywide 911 calls involving mental health last year: 1,881 (of those incidents, CIT officers were available to respond to 989 incidents.)

Get help: People experiencing a mental health crisis can access these resources for help: 

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255
  • York Hospital Crisis Intervention Service: Call 717-851-5320
  • Call 911 and ask for a crisis intervention team officer