Woman in Crisis Appreciates Officers’ Approach
Constables Matthew McMillen and James Muirhead found the woman pacing near the edge of the water at a harbourfront park.
“I was at my last point and gone down to the harbourfront and had brought all my sleeping pills with me,” said Ingrid, of the day in September, a low point for her. “When I saw the officers approach me, I moved closer to the edge of the water because I got scared.”
The officers had promised not to come near Ingrid. They sat down on the concrete benches, near the water, away from her.
“I think we have both benefited from the Crisis Intervention Training we have had. At 51 Division, it is a pretty regular occurrence to deal with someone with mental illness,” explains McMillen, of the east downtown Division, home to many social service agencies serving the homeless and mentally ill.
“We were able to calm her down, talk to her, and we treated her like a person. I think that is what resonated with her. There were no judgments from our end, our demeanor was very level-headed and just calm and, fortunately, we didn’t have to jump into the water or have the situation escalate. She came away from the edge,” explains McMillen.
Ingrid said the officers related to her experience.
“They just spoke about how they know why I like going down to the water, because it is really peaceful and they weren’t questioning me about what was exactly wrong with me. They were slowly talking to me. I felt like they really didn’t do that because it was their job, they did it because they actually really cared,” said Ingrid. “A lot of things are hard for me to say, to say things correctly because I have anxiety, but I wasn’t afraid of them. They were calm and made me feel safe and comfortable.”
The two constables were surprised to receive a handwritten letter from the woman a few days after the incident.
“Between the two of us, I can’t even guess how many people we have apprehended, whether they were suicidal or going through a crisis, but it is pretty rare in my experience to get a letter from the person… it makes you feel good,” says Muirhead.
Five months later, the two officers got another letter, this time from the woman’s friend, Andrea Rowe, thanking the officers for their good work and to let them know that the woman they helped was doing well.
It was in the late-evening hours of September 19, that the pair of officers went to Rowe’s home and started getting information from her on the potential whereabouts of her friend and learned Ingrid was on the phone with a crisis worker who believed she was near the waterfront. They used Communications Services to ascertain where Ingrid was using her cellphone signal.
Rowe said that she was extremely worried about her friend, who had never threatened suicide before, and was starting to panic when the officers arrived.
“It was a landmark experience for me, personally. It was the most positive experience I have ever had with police,” says Rowe.
“I was worried my best friend was going to take her life. The one thing that affected me the most was how calm they were and their energy was very calm, their voices and tone were very calm and they were very reassuring. They really helped me deescalate and get my wits about me and get the information needed so that we could get Ingrid safely into care,” recalls Rowe.
At the water’s edge, once able to gain Ingrid’s trust, the officers were able move her away from the lake, chat some more and have her hand over her sleeping pills. They also informed her of their duty to apprehend her and take her to the hospital for treatment under the Mental Health Act.
“While we were doing everything, we were just explaining what it was. We said ‘listen you have been very good with us, we do have to take you to the hospital.’ So everything was clear to her, there was no kind of tricking or maneuvering. We just said ‘hey this is what is going to happen this is why we are going to do this, we don’t have to handcuff you, if you do become aggressive or violent we may have to.’ We were very honest,” says McMillen.
“We just wanted her to know she wasn’t in any kind of trouble,” adds Muirhead.
Once at the hospital, the officers also helped Ingrid calm down by joking with her. “One officer was really funny and that helped,” says Ingrid.
After feeling better, while still in the hospital, she wrote a letter to the two men, thanking them for their help that night.
“I was just grateful that they were who they were. I’ve had bad experiences before that made me feel like that my being depressed was a bad thing… that I wasn’t taken serious enough. They were people. Cops are people. They make mistakes, but they were human. They had it down when it came to showing some care, just talk, someone to listen to. A lot of it just boils down to that,” says Ingrid.
For the two officers, it was nice to hear that the woman is doing well.
“It was encouraging,” says McMillen, “We don’t always get that closure,” adds Muirhead.
Superintendent Elizabeth Byrnes said the two officers display a positive approach to their work.
“I know both James and Matt being very good, positive guys, around the station and I can totally see what that woman said in that email. That is so them. They are quiet, professional, really good guys who handled that interaction the way many officers in the Division would have, but that was one I could see them doing. They do the right thing.”