Andrew Dys

Police negotiators who helped Rock Hill woman in bell tower: Peaceful resolution is bottom line

Members of the Rock Hill Police negotiating team, from left, Capt. Rod Stinson, Lt. Kenyatta Tripp, Detective Amy Jones and Detective Kris Quate.
Members of the Rock Hill Police negotiating team, from left, Capt. Rod Stinson, Lt. Kenyatta Tripp, Detective Amy Jones and Detective Kris Quate.

Almost invisible the afternoon of Sept. 2 in downtown Rock Hill, a team worked to bring a woman threatening suicide from the bell tower of Rock Hill’s First Presbyterian Church.

No lone wolf negotiator like the movies or TV. Denzel Washington did not arrive by helicopter.

These officers have no fancy name or nicknames or even strict job descriptions. A life was in jeopardy but there was no talk of drama. The words used were “safety” and “care” and “help.”

Yet the Rock Hill Police Department’s crisis negotiation team of four men and two women did have a crisis at hand, and they did negotiate with that woman who was 30 years old and threatening to jump three stories in the middle of a busy downtown.

And two hours after the team came together just after 2 p.m., here is what the team’s commander, Capt. Rod Stinson, is most proud of: “She came down to meet us, and she was safe.”

Getting ready

The department’s crisis negotiation team is made up of commander Stinson; team leader Lt. Kenyatta Tripp, a patrol supervisor; detectives Kris Quate and Amy Jones; and officers Sarah Arrington and Daniel Popov. Each must undergo a tryout to get on the team, then more than 40 hours of off-site, specialized training to start, with monthly training afterward.

The team is not unlike a SWAT unit or any other special team that works together and trains together, even with other full-time duties.

The unit pulls people from different divisions and is made up of men and women, black and white, and has one single goal: save a life.

Tripp is the team leader for negotiations. The team works to show the person – in a hostage situation, or barricaded, or, like last week, threatening to harm herself – that the police care and are there to do all possible to end the threat without injuries to anyone. That means safety of the person or people involved, the public, the officers.

“We are there simply because we care about that person, and we care about the welfare of other people,” Tripp said.

Sounds simple.

But execution is not.

Real life

On Sept. 2, the officers put their training into action.

Stinson coordinated communication and ran the scene. Tripp served as go-between from Stinson and Jones – the primary negotiator that particular day – making sure both knew what was happening, what was needed, what could help.

Quate was the “coach” – the person next to the primary negotiator – helping the conversation along with a voice in Jones’ ear.

And that is what it is – a conversation.

“People would be surprised – we talk a little and listen a lot,” Stinson said.

Arrington and Popov gathered information about the person to find what could help end the crisis without injury or worse.

“We want to resolve the situation in the safest way for everyone,” Jones said.

Again, sounds easy, but try talking to a person for almost two straight hours – or talking and listening for two straight hours – as Jones did Sept. 2.

“It does get mentally exhausting,” Jones said. “We are trying to convince anyone that as bad as the situation is right now, they can make it, and the bottom line is we can help them.”

The primary negotiator builds a rapport with the person, but it is all the others who give the primary officer the tools to build that rapport.

“It is a team effort and it requires that everyone be humble – everyone wants the same thing,” Quate said.

On Sept. 2, the minutes ticked by and nobody pushed for a resolution. Real life, time is not the issue. Not a movie or TV show where the star yells into the phone demanding a plane and getaway money.

On average, Rock Hill might have five or six crisis negotiation calls in a year. Some take just an hour or two. Others take several hours. This summer, a man with a gun held someone hostage, but in the end, the situation was resolved without any loss of life.

Some calls might take half a day or even days.

“How long does it take? It takes as long as it takes,” Stinson said. “There is no time. You take the time you need to try for that peaceful, safe resolution.”

In this age of social media and the Internet, situations such as happened Sept. 2 were already news while the woman was in the tower. There were news cameras and some in the public watching, waiting. People were talking about the woman on Facebook and Twitter as she decided to live or die.

Through the team’s efforts, the woman found her way down from the bell tower.

The team waited at the bottom of the steps. The woman walked down to meet them.

The crisis negotiation team – four guys and two women, named Rod and Kenyatta, Amy and Kris, Sarah and Daniel – did its job.

A woman in their city is alive today because of them.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065