The Allen Police Department Hostage Negotiation Team has received recognition for a different kind of work outside the typical line of duty.
The team spends time answering suicide hotline calls at the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas, honing their negotiating skills under similar pressure. It received the Dr. Cliff Jones Award, named in honor of the Dallas center’s founder, for superior achievement in crisis line counseling and commitment to the center’s mission.
Allen PD has been involved with the center since 2002, when Allen PD spokesman Sgt. Jon Felty and Cpl. Mike Such took a one-week training class conducted by Dallas PD. Part of the training was instruction in how to bring potentially suicidal callers from “an emotional state of mind back down to a rational state of mind,” Felty said.
“When people reach a point that they call a suicide line, they’ve usually lost all hope and they feel helpless,” he said. “You build a rapport with them, and you use active listening skills. You’re listening to them more than you’re talking.”
Now, once a month, the hostage negotiation team – Felty, Such, and officers Matt Johnson and Richard Ferguson – heads to the Dallas center to work the suicide hotline. Felty said the officers usually take 15-25 calls per shift, and that the average call lasts 45 minutes.
The center receives about 30,000-35,000 calls per year, according to the officers. A lot of those people, Johnson said, are repeat callers or part of the “lonely hearts club.” The officers get to know a little bit about these people and come to recognize their voices. But other callers are in a state of crisis, and the officers said they realize the kind of caller within a couple of minutes.
“What we’re forced to do in the profession definitely helps with people in a crisis,” Johnson said. “We figure out the problem and the solution.” Felty said, “It hones your skills and makes good practice for us.”
Because the Dallas crisis center is nationally certified, calls come in from all over the country. Crisis centers don’t want callers to get a busy signal, so if someone calls a center in Detroit and all lines are tied up, their call will go to New York or Texas, for example.
Every call the officers take is logged into a computer system that allows them to make comments that are viewed by crisis center managers. Different system tools allow them to assess the situation. Calls from “very suicidal” individuals are recorded and monitored.
The police officers also use pseudonyms so callers aren’t aware they’re talking to police. The officers want callers to be as comfortable as possible, Johnson said.
At first, the suicide hotline assistance was only fulfilling a job requirement for Felty, he said, but it quickly became more than that.
“I enjoy going, and you can really help these people,” he said. “It’s an honor because the award is given for your professionalism, your dedication and your ability to talk to people in a suicidal crisis.”