Confronting Crisis with Calm

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 5 a.m. January 31, 2018

When someone is threatening to take their own life, the police officers who rush to the scene to help often find themselves slowing down their response to the crisis to bring the situation under control.

A man and woman in TPS uniform
Constable Brent Irvine and Agnes Direnzo

It was exactly what Constables Brent Irvine and Agnes DiRenzo, of 11 Division, were confronted with, in late January, responding to a call for a woman threatening suicide. DiRenzo worked with the dispatcher to relay information from the woman’s mother, who lived in another city, but had been on the phone with her daughter.

“That was very instrumental. The mom had said that her daughter was in the tub with a hairdryer threatening to drop it in the water and commit suicide if anyone came in,” Irvine said.

Irvine cut power to the apartment as he entered to ensure the woman could not electrocute herself and found the woman clothed in the tub of water holding a knife to her throat.

“When I got into the apartment and started talking with her, she let me know she didn’t want to hurt me or anybody else,” he said, of sidling up to her in the doorway of the bathroom. “She had a chef knife in her hand and she said was going to slit her throat. I relayed that information to other officers and started negotiating with her. By that time, Agnieszka had showed up and was quarterbacking the play.”

Irvine respected the woman’s boundaries, noting she was clear to let him know not to come any closer. They were able to get her grandmother on the phone who, along with Irvine, tried to calm the situation.

“I was listening to her, negotiating with her, and trying to ensure she was safe and get treatment,” he said.

With the woman failing to put down the knife, a decision was made to call in Emergency Task Force (ETF) officers, who have additional training in negotiating with people in crisis and carry Conducted Energy Weapons (CEW).

“When they showed up, they asked me to continue to talk with her,” said Irvine, having developed a rapport with the woman. “We also had her grandmother on the phone who was trying to calm her down.”

But, after several hours, the woman grabbed for a razor blade at the side of the tub and put it to her wrist.

“That was when the ETF made the decision to jump in and deploy a CEW,” said Irvine, noting he alerted the officers that she was escalating the situation moments before her actions. The ETF officers were able to immobilize her safely before she was able to go through with the self-harming act. 

“I went with her to the hospital because she wanted me to accompany her,” said Irvine, who rode in the ambulance and saw her through triage before she was admitted.

Irvine, who has been with the Service for 10 years, said the entire call took about three hours but resulted in treatment and no one injured – the goal for all officers facing a suicidal person.

“We were all happy that she did herself no serious harm and we were able to get her to the hospital,” he added. “The situation ended positively.”

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