Column: You do what you have to do when responding to calls involving emotionally-disturbed people
One night years ago, my partner and I were dispatched to an apartment a little north of the University of Michigan Hospital. A woman had called the Ann Arbor Police Department and reported her son was despondent and threatening suicide. There was no further information given to the dispatcher about how he might accomplish this.
These calls are obviously taken seriously because the possibility for loss of human life is very real. Not much background information was available, so we were unsure what we would face. Would the man be armed with weapon? Would we have to kick the door to check on him? All of these questions race through your mind as you respond to a call of this nature.
We approached his apartment with guns drawn and placed down by our thighs, out of sight. We surrounded the door and took a few moments to listen for noise inside the apartment. Someone was still inside. It was “GO” time and we knocked on the door.
At this point, a lot of things could happen and we were ready, using proper officer safety techniques of the day (there were no Tasers back then). What confronted us at the door was something we hadn't expected in our tactical planning. It is something my partner and I will never forget.
The young man who answered the door had a crazed look in his eyes, wild hair, and yelled at us, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” He was armed with a table knife in his hand. His implement of death was the kind of table knife that won’t cut through anything much more substantial than butter. It was the object on top of his head that surprised us the most.
Perched in the nest of wild hair, just above the sneer and wild eyes, was a live blue parakeet. My partner and I were simultaneously laughing and reholstering our guns when my partner told him to put the knife down. The man dropped the knife on the floor. I then asked the man to let us in so we could talk to him. He became a good host and let us in. Once inside, I sized up his problem rather quickly.
Inside the poor soul’s apartment, the ceiling and walls were covered with aluminum foil. One must remember the mission here is to get this man who wants to hurt himself to the hospital for a psychological evaluation without injury to anyone.
I told him it was obvious what the problem was and why he wanted to hurt himself. I asked him who had done his foil work because there were obvious leaks. I told him I thought he had been exposed to a bad dose of “rays.” He agreed and was so happy someone finally understood.
I told him we must get him to the hospital as soon as possible to be checked by a doctor. He agreed. He replaced Polly (or whatever the parakeet was named) in her cage.
I asked him what protection he had from the “rays” outside. He said he really didn’t have any. I explained to him that the badges on our hats actually deflected the “rays” and protected us until we could get back under the metal roof of our car.
I asked him if perhaps he had any “de-ionization bracelets” or the like. He told me he did not. Luckily, I had a set on my gun belt that I could loan him until we got to the hospital. I placed the specially designed “de-ionization bracelets” (they resembled common police handcuffs) on his wrists, threw his jacket over his shoulders for added protection, locked his front door, and we strolled out to the waiting police car.
He was actually calm and relieved when he got in the car. I realize that for therapeutic reasons, I should not have used this man’s irrational fears, but it worked and no one got hurt.
In my experience, officers in uniform have a rather difficult time altering an emotionally disturbed person’s reality. Therefore, I have unashamedly adopted “roles” as needed to get someone safely into custody and to the psychiatric help they need.
I have had several “kings/queens of the world”, “Hitler”, and “Jesus” in my patrol car during my career. In each case, I adopted the role of their royal guardsman, driver or disciple, and it helped get the job done. Sometimes you do what you have to do.
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.