BTB front line policing NegotiatorBecause when someone is in crisis, listening to what is troubling them could be the difference between whether they decide life is worth living or not.

Arriving on the scene where someone is feeling suicidal is a daunting experience that can present a multitude of challenges. It's something only a small number of police officers are specially trained to respond to. And for one of our negotiators, who has been trained in the role for nine years, guiding suicidal people down from bridges, window-sills and high rise car parks is one part of being in the police force that gives him the satisfaction that he's been able to help someone in a time of crisis.

"It's all about being able to really make a difference," he said. "I enjoy helping people out at extremely difficult times and becoming a negotiator was an avenue I wanted to explore. You've got to have excellent communication skills, be able to deal with other people's stressful and challenging situations in a calm and methodical manner.

"Being a negotiator is 70 per cent listening and 30 per cent talking."

With more than 28 years of service with Wiltshire Police, the negotiator has his fair share of experience to draw upon when dealing with people in desperate need of help, and finding common ground, something to relate to, is one of the most important skills to being a good negotiator.

"Relationship breakdowns, money worries, family struggles...they're the main things you tend to hear about from someone who simply cannot see a way out," he said.

"When you've had a lot of life experience and a lot of experience in the job, it can really help you build up a rapport with that person. To have experienced difficult times yourself means you can understand how they could have reached this point. I've had times in my life where I've had so much going on, but fortunately I've never got to the point where I've wanted to kill myself. But you never know what is round the corner and what could tip you over the edge."

Although it can be a rewarding role, the negotiator remembers the exact time and date in December 2014 when, despite his best efforts, after just 15 minutes a man in Swindon decided life was just too much for him. He suffered serious injuries after jumping from an overbridge and remained in a coma for several weeks .

"You don't feel to blame, because you do what you can do," he said. "You never want any harm to come to anyone, and you do the best you can but it is their decision to take their own lives. We're there to try and help them see that there are better solutions and ways their lives could be turned around."

The negotiator recalls his most difficult call being only last year - a woman threatening to end her life by jumping from a building. She spent 23 hours on the roof while negotiators tried to talk her down during wind, rain and plummeting temperatures.

"It was exhausting and desperately sad," he said. "Eventually we managed to get her to a place of safety so she could receive the ongoing support she needed.

"It can be so difficult, but you throw yourself into it and build up the trust and confidence of the person involved. When people are suffering, they can be tunnelled and they can't think of the positive things in life, they can't think how their family are going to feel. You listen carefully, try to understand how they are feeling, talk things through and help them find a solution."  

Published Wednesday 8 August 2018.

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