Police save man in mental health crisis from jumping off bridge

Posted On Friday July 31, 2020

A young man climbed over the guard rails of the Chaudiere Crossing on Tuesday morning, ‘because the voices in his head were telling him to jump’.

Police were called after a man was reported weaving in and out of traffic. Officers closed the bridge and Ottawa Police and Ottawa Fire Services positioned their boats under the bridge.

Sgt. Jason Riopel, who has been a police officer for thirteen years, was one of several officers on the scene.

Approaching the ledge, he spoke to the man. He refused to tell Sgt. Riopel his name but said he didn’t need police, “he knew how to fix himself”.

It quickly became obvious the man was having a mental health crisis. Sgt. Riopel has some mental health training and experience dealing with people in distress. “This situation is more challenging than someone who is suicidal because you may not be able to reason with them while they are in this state.”

Sgt. Richard Dugal, a trained negotiator, joined his colleague on the bridge.  For the next six hours, they spoke to the man, forming a rapport.

They calmed him down and tried to convince him to step back to the other side of the guard rail.

“It’s always preferable in a case like this to have the person step back to safety themselves,” said Sgt. Riopel. “There are so many factors to consider when using force to bring someone back. Their size, your size, their stress level. Even sweating can play a role in whether you can hold them. Any of these factors could cause him to slip from our grip and fall.”

It was clear the man was suffering the effects of being in the sun too long. “He was sun-burned, tired, dehydrated, and unsteady on his feet,” said Sgt. Riopel. “Now falling was becoming a greater risk than jumping.”

He was not going to come back on his own, so the officers grabbed him. The Tactical team moved in and pulled the man to safety.

 “It’s harder than it looks to pull someone over a guard rail,” said Sgt. Riopel. “You don’t have your full strength when you’re reaching in front of you, and this guy was tall and husky. Sgt. Dugal and I are big too, but we couldn’t have managed to get him over the fence.”

Officers never know what course these situations will take. “We need to be prepared for everything,” said Sgt. Riopel. “As long as he didn’t appear he was going to jump, we could give him time. When he looked like he was going to fall, we had to move. You have to time it just right, because you are only getting one chance.”

The man was uninjured and taken to hospital for assessment.

Your mental health is important and help is available at crisisline.ca - 613-722-6914 or 1-866-996-0991.