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Suicide Prevention: How officers train to protect people from harming themselves

11Alive's Ron Jones took a closer look at some of the training that's saving the lives of those who are suffering silently when they encounter police.
(Photo: Thinkstock)

ATLANTA — Police officers are sworn to protect and serve, but that doesn't always mean protecting the public from criminals. Sometimes, it means protecting everyday people ... from themselves.

11Alive's Ron Jones took a closer look at some of the training that's saving the lives of those who are suffering silently when they encounter police.

Each and every peace officer in the state of Georgia must be trained and ready to deal with life-and-death situations, like the one that happened in Henry County. That's where officers answered the call of a possible suicide attempt back in July.

They found a young father on the floor holding a knife pressed against his chest, threatening to kill himself.

"Let's go outside and talk about it. Drop the knife," officers ask.

RELATED: 'We're not giving up on you': Bodycam shows officers' compassion as man threatens suicide

They're trying to connect with him.

"You want to go get help, I know you do," the officer explains. "You said you're tired and you're sick. We need to go get you some help. Drop the knife."

Georgia officers are supposed to be familiar with these crisis situations. Maj. John Hutchinson with the Georgia Public Training Center in Forsyth County told 11Alive they train and certify thousands of peace officers across the state.

Part of the mandatory training is recognizing someone threatening suicide.

"We're trained each year," he said. "It's something we have to go through."

RELATED: Smyrna officer stops U.S. Navy veteran from attempting suicide

Even seasoned veterans must go through the annual training if they want to keep their gun and badge, Hutchinson said.

"We, as Georgia peace officers, in order to keep our annual certification and our arrest powers, we have to take a three-hour block on deescalation techniques."

Identifying the threat of suicide is crucial.

"Some of them may have substance abuse, some of them may have mental health issues, some of them may be threatening or thinking about suicide," Hutchinson listed.

RELATED: Program aims to reduce mental health, law enforcement interactions

The training may have paid off in Henry County.

"Listen to me. You did the right thing," the officer said.

The officers talked this young dad out of taking his own life. They're now getting him help.

RELATED: Feds looking to create 988 suicide hotline

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For anyone who needs help or wants to find resources on suicide prevention, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. You can also call the 24/7 hotline number at 1-800-273-8255. 

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