Add To Favorites
FSPD responded to 561 suicide threat and attempt calls in 2019
Times Record - 2/9/2020
Feb. 9--When asked about the number of suicide calls Fort Smith police have recently responded to, Cpl. Bill Hardin's answer was simple: "We don't want to see one."
The Police Department in 2019 responded to 561 suicide threat and attempt calls, according to Police Chief Danny Baker. Hardin said Fort Smith police frequently respond to suicide threat or attempt calls while on patrol.
Officers in January responded to 48 such calls -- more than half of which came to Troop 2, which operates between 1-11 p.m. Police from Jan. 1-27 received four such calls that resulted in a successful suicide attempt, Baker said.
"Any number to that is horrible," Hardin said.
Fort Smith police and other public officials in the area have long been concerned about suicide and suicide-related incidents in the region. The Police Department's number of suicide-related calls throughout January had exceeded the number of calls in almost twice that amount of time the year prior -- Fort Smith police as of Feb. 26, 2019 had responded to 45 suicidal incidents.
The number of suicide calls the Police Department receives isn't necessarily a bad thing, Hardin said. He said the call volume has risen in recent years because residents are learning more about mental health and factors that contribute to suicide.
But the factors that bring about the calls are still problematic, Hardin said. These factors include stressors like the loss of a loved one, spouse, or job or mental illness.
And sometimes, suicide calls are brought about by another thing police frequently have to respond to: drugs.
"We have a very bad drug problem everywhere," he said. "That can affect the brain, the mind, the mentality, and you have to be able to recognize that, too."
In their responses to suicide calls, Fort Smith police officers often perform duties better suited for a mental health professional, Hardin said. He said this aspect of his and other officers' jobs is indicative of a larger trend in policing: officers are called to help the public as well as prevent crime and arrest suspects.
This dynamic of policing, he said, can be seen when officers respond to a suicidal person with mental illness.
"They don't respond in the same manner that someone who does not have that to deal with can respond. If you take that the wrong way, it could be bad for that person. You don't want to further demoralize or victimize this person who has a disorder versus getting them the help that they need," he said.
Hardin said the crisis intervention training many officers, including himself, have received can better help officers respond to these kinds of calls. About half the patrol staff is crisis intervention certified, said police spokesperson Aric Mitchell.
But Fort Smith police also intend to take their response to suicide calls and other mental health-related incidents a step further. Baker on Jan. 31 announced the Police Department will launch its Crisis Intervention and Mental Health Unit in the second quarter of 2020. It will have four officers who will work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
The goal of the unit will be to "look at ways of dealing with (mental health) issues other than incarceration," Baker said in a news release.
"We want to be able to get folks the help they need in a time of crisis and then provide the follow-up necessary to ensure their long-term success. It really is about doing all we can to invest in people and not discounting their worth because of an illness we may not understand," Baker said in a statement given to the Times Record on Thursday. "Based solely on the responses so far from citizens, health care providers, judges and law enforcement, I know this has been much needed for a long time and will be successful."
In the meantime, Baker wants anyone experiencing suicidal urges to know they are valued.
"Please know, you matter to me," Baker said in a Jan. 27 Facebook post about suicide in Fort Smith.
(c)2020 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)
Visit Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.) at www.swtimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.