Use of Empathy on the Force

Officer Talks Man Down From Freeway Overpass

Crisis Intervention Team Officer Priscilla Chillis talked a man out of jumping off of a freeway overpass and then caught him after he almost slipped off. Chillis utilized her training as a CIT officer and her experience and training as an ordained minister to de-escalate this potentially fatal situation.

Upon arriving at the scene, Officer Chillis found the individual depressed, very paranoid, and intent on taking his life. Initially, it was difficult to communicate with him. Officer Chillis gave the man plenty of space, allowed him to ventilate, actively listened, was patient, showed empathy and concern, and took a non-threatening stance. What appeared to be especially effective, Chillis said, was the use of body language to demonstrate a true concern and empathy for the individual. Outstretched arms, a soft tone of voice, looking into the individual’s eyes, and a non-confrontational demeanor helped convince the individual that Officer Chillis cared about him and was there to help. The techniques worked. The individual opened up to Officer Chillis and talked to her about personal problems that led to his depression. An hour later, Chillis convinced the man to step down off of the overpass. Ironically, as he was stepping down, the man slipped and was about to fall when Officer Chillis grabbed him.

Officer Chillis explained that it was a very gray day with thick clouds overhead. At one point, as she was talking about the gift of life and God’s will, there was a crack like thunder, the clouds opened, and the sun temporarily shined directly on the individual. They both interpreted this as a sign that the individual should not attempt to take his life. It was shortly after this that the individual decided to step down from the freeway overpass.

Officer Chillis credits the CIT training with providing skills that helped her de-escalate this situation.