CIVIC CENTER Despite what people see in the movies and on television, police officers rarely have the opportunity to save someone’s life.
That’s exactly what a handful of Santa Monica police officers did recently, reviving a 3-year-old found floating in the family pool, as well as a father of four young children whose heart stopped while conducting business at City Hall.
And just last week, officers talked a man off the ledge of a Downtown parking structure. He was apparently going to take his life before officers reached him.
That incident occurred Dec. 12 on the seventh level of Parking Structure No. 5, in the 1400 block of Third Street. Two officers responded to a report of a 63-year-old man perched on a ledge, threatening to jump after losing his wife and his home of 30 years.
“In a situation like this, you want to find out why the person is up there, if they want to hurt themselves and just basically build a rapport with them and let them know you are empathetic with what they are going through,” said Santa Monica Police Department’s Sgt. Renaldi Thruston, who is a crisis negotiations team leader with experience in hostage situations as well as potential suicides.
The officers worked as a team to gain the man’s trust and ended up having to help him climb over the railing to safety.
On Nov. 30, officers received a report of a child found lifeless in a pool in the 1700 block of Pine Street. Officer Brian Spencer, a member of the SMPD for three years, responded and found the young child with no pulse.
“When I got there, the child’s mother was holding him,” Spencer said. “She was crying histerically and I could see that the child looked blue and purple.”
Spencer administered CPR with the help of the child’s grandfather.
“I was mainly focused on getitng this kid to breathe,” Spencer said. “Obviously being so close to the holidays, no parent wants to see their child die, especially right in front of them.”
After about seven minutes, the child began vomitting and Spencer could feel a slight pulse. Paramedics arrived and took over, transporting the child to a local hospital, where he later recovered.
“I got a little emotional because just moments before I was holding this 3-year-old who was lifeless, like a rag doll and to see him take a breath … it felt pretty good. You take this job to help people, but to actually save someone’s life … to be honest, myself and the other officers and fire department personnel were just relieved that the kid will be OK.”
Spencer gives credit to the training he recieved from the SMPD. Just a month before the incident, he attended a mandatory refresher course on CPR.
So did Officer David Alvarez, a four-year-veteran of the SMPD, who, along with two of his colleagues, Sgt. Hudson and Officer Perez, brought back to life Darren Laureano, a land use consultant who was in the Building and Safety Division at City Hall on Dec. 1 when his heart failed, causing him to collapse, smashing his head on a table before falling to the floor.
City employees hit a panic button that set off an alarm in the Public Safety Facility. Alvarez and his fellow officers raced to the scene. When they arrived, they saw several people standing, looking concerned.
“We thought maybe once of the customers was upset,” Alvarez said. “That happens often in that department in City Hall.”
What they saw was far more grave. Laureano was lying on the floor, his face covered in his own blood. Alvarez reached for a mouthpiece that had been hanging from his keychain for roughly four years, having never needed it before, and placed it over Laureano’s mouth. He provided life-saving breaths to Laureano while Perez grabbed the automated external defribrillator (AED) and sent an electric shock to his heart, reestablishing an effective rhythm.
Laureano was transported to a local hospital, where he later recovered. Doctors aren’t sure what caused the attack, Laureano’s wife, Cathy, said.
She is grateful for the help the officers provided and went back to the police station several weeks later with her husband to thank them.
“Without them, our life would have been drastically changed forever,” Cathy Laureano said. “Now we take nothing for granted. We are just thankful for what we have and forget about the silly, nit-picky things that seemed to matter before, because they don’t.
“Now I have to be the perfect wife,” she added with a laugh. “I promised God that if he gave my husband another chance that I would be the perfect wife, and I’m trying my darndest.”
The officers involved in each incident will be nominated for a medal of honor, Thruston said.
SMPD Chief Tim Jackman praised his officers for their swift action and calm under pressure, calling Santa Monica officers some of the finest he has ever worked with in his 20-plus years in law enforcement.
“We train our officers constantly on how to deal with stressful situations,” Jackman said. “One of the ways we do this is to help them understand that they need to take their time, quickly. When in a chaotic, expanding and high-tempo environment, the ability to clearly think and respond as trained is a key element. Santa Monica police officers are the best I have ever seen under such circumstances and I am extremely proud of their performance in these two lifesaving instances.
“At this time of the year, when people reflect on the things they have to be thankful and grateful for, I know there are two families who wish for nothing other than what they have already received — their family members present for the holidays.”