Trust Reopened the Route 95 Piscataqua River Bridge
You can thank Portsmouth Police Detective Rochelle Jones for getting the Piscataway River Bridge reopened Thursday morning, but her job is far from over.
Jones, who is the department's Community Outreach Coordinator, was asked to assist State Police on the Route 95 bridge and talk to a New Hampshire man who was threatening to jump. The northbound lanes were already closed, and traffic was backing up fast into downtown Portsmouth as drivers tried to use a different bridge.
"I went to the bridge with a female State Police negotiator who had been talking to him. She was going to brief me on what had happened. I just hopped over the barrier and introduced myself," Jones told Seacoast Current.
Jones is a 19-year police veteran and has trained in crisis negotiation and crisis team intervention and de-escalation. She teaches de-escalation, personal health and suicide prevention, and works with many support groups like Seacoast Mental Health.
Listening is Key to a Successful Resolution
In March, Jones joined the Portsmouth Police crisis negotiation team and had just returned the night before from a three-day training with the New Englands Association of Crisis Negotiators.
"I'm a rookie to crisis negotiation, but I'm a veteran officer," Jones said. She called her team leader from the Seacoast Emergency Response Team to coach her and make sure she was utilizing her skills. One of the key skills is listening.
"When I got there, I just listened to what the gentleman was upset about, put that in my memory," Jones said.
When Jones began talking to the man, whose identity was not disclosed by Maine State Police, he had already been talking with other negotiators for three hours. She said often times during negotiations, another negotiator is brought in that will hopefully relate better to the person. Jones said she and the man connected.
Jones said they talked about what was bothering him, trying to find some common ground. They also negotiated some demands he had, and gave him a cigarette.
"I just happened to come in at the right time. I was able to connect with him and find some common ground. Things like...from the same area, some common interests, and just really listening to him and just acknowledging and validating his feelings," Jones said.
The bridge was closed to all traffic in both directions, as noise made it difficult for Jones to hear the man in person and on a phone.
"We're not going to be able to stay up here all day"
The situation came to an end as Jones offered him a ride to the hospital in her police vehicle and assured him that police were not going to hurt him. She also made arrangements for the man to speak with community members he wanted to speak with.
"We opened up the ladder for him. We'd rather you come up on your own terms, but we're not going to be able to stay up here all day. He came up the ladder when he was ready and went right to my cruiser, and we brought him to a hospital where he was taken for an evaluation," Jones said.
The bridge was reopened around 10:30 a.m, and traffic eased out. But for Jones, the situation is ongoing as she has to follow up on her promise to help the man cope with the issues that brought him to the bridge and connect him to those in the community he wanted to speak with. She gave the man her contact information so they could keep in touch.
"I said 'you call me when you're comfortable if you want to and I will make sure our conversation doesn't end today. I'm going to help you with this process," Jones said.
Jones said she has used that strategy throughout her career and always tries to keep her word and follow up, even if it's a simple emailed question following a safety training class.
"I will email them back and I will follow through. I told him that we don't know each other, and he had some trust issues with police officers and some bad experiences," Jones said.
Keeping One's Word
It's a careful conversation that Jones had with the man on the bridge, involving trying to build trust and a rapport without overpromising. Being born and raised in Portsmouth, Jones said you never know when you might run into someone again.
"I can't go in there like a salesperson and offer all these things. You're genuinely invested in somebody's safety, and you're just trying to see that's the better option," Jones said.
Jones said they spoke on Friday. "He's doing okay. He was thankful for our help," Jones said.
The man has not been charged with anything, pending a review by the York County District Attorney’s Office.
If you feel you or someone you know may be in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK, or the Portsmouth Regional Hospital crisis-suicide hotline at 603-433-5370.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH