The Cal Incline was shut in both directions earlier this year as a suicidal male was seated on the edge of the pedestrian bridge

In the weeks between March 12 and April 7 of this year, the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) reported it has seen an uptick in cases requiring its CNT, or crisis negotiation team, which utilizes de-escalation techniques to free hostages, calm violent suspects and preserve the lives of suicidal people, among other scenarios.

“The purpose of the CNT is to preserve lives during critical incidents, including situations involving hostages, barricaded suspects, or suicidal subjects,” SMPD Public Information Officer Rudy Flores detailed in an email to the Daily Press. “The CNT employs de-escalation techniques first developed by NYPD in 1972 following the hostage incident at the Munich Olympics. Since then, and in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, SMPD has honed its skills to prepare for new challenges in the field. Two Sergeants and fourteen Negotiators comprise the 16-member team, all of whom work this assignment as an on-call position. In other words, these highly-trained individuals may be called upon to serve the community during critical incidents 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

The team consists of about 14 trained officers who are on call to deploy in groups of eight as call-outs occur.

Recent utilization of the team has occurred on March 12, 15, 20, 21, and 30 and April 7. All instances came to positive resolutions, police reported.

On March 12, a 911 caller (which SMPD refers to as a “reporting party”) alerted police to a believed victim of domestic violence being held against their will inside a Santa Monica home. “After several hours, CNT negotiated release of victim,” according to a report from the scene; however, the supposed victim did not press charges.

Just three days later on March 15, a juvenile armed with a hammer barricaded himself inside an air duct at the public safety facility (where both the fire and police departments are headquartered). The suspect was reportedly making threats to an employee at the facility. The SMPD report stated the team was able to talk him out of the air duct; he was then placed into a 72-hour psychiatric hold, or what’s known as a 5150 hold.

Five days after that, on March 20, the CNT was called to a “high risk traffic stop,” wherein a felony suspect was believed to have a firearm. Initially, the suspect refused to exit the vehicle; CNT was able to talk him out safely, according to the report.

The next day, CNT was called to the site of a suicidal would-be jumper, who was armed with a knife on the pedestrian bridge above the California Incline. After a five-hour standoff, CNT was able to safely rescue him.

Another would-be suicide occurred on March 30, wherein a woman standing on the ledge of the eighth level of Parking Structure 2 (on 2nd Street between Arizona and Wilshire boulevards) threatened to jump. CNT worked with officers to rescue her safely.

Most recently, on April 7, CNT responded to a suspect barricaded inside a residence after shots were fired. The suspect is believed to have shot his firearm into an inhabited dwelling and then barricaded himself inside a different unit; CNT negotiated his successful surrender.

“Generally, we’re going to co-respond with our department’s SWAT team. And so, while the SWAT team will handle some of the tactical and physical elements, CNT is brought in to negotiate,” SMPD Sgt. Lewis Gilmour said during a recent Inside the Daily Press podcast. “And so, with the full response, we’re going to bring in about eight or nine negotiators, because there is a lot of roles and assignments.” 

Gilmour said each member has a slightly different task.

“We’re brought in specifically so that CNT can focus on the communication — so that we can talk to someone in crisis and try to resolve it while the rest of the officers and personnel that we have tend to other needs for the given scene,” he added.

As of March 22, Flores wrote, “CNT was activated 16 times in the past year, 4 of which were in the last week.”

The March 30 and April 7 incidents bring that total up to 18, with one-third of those occurring in the past month.

emily@smdp.com