GREAT FALLS — In September, Master Police Officer Jacob Smith was driving his patrol car home for lunch at 2:00 a.m. when he noticed something unusual.
"He's jumping right now," cried MPO Smith from his patrol car radio. "Hey, Buddy! Don't do it. Will you talk to me, please?"
Smith, a seven-year patrolman, took swift action and spent nearly 35 minutes talking to a young man who had climbed over the railing of the Warden Bridge on 10th Avenue South in Great Falls.
"Suicides are my least favorite call because people get to that point when they feel like they’ve run out of options," he said.
Smith took careful yet, immediate attention to the juvenile. The bridge left a barrier between him and the teenager who he convinced to straddle the railing. GFPD told MTN News that during the incident, the juvenile possessed an air pistol, which appeared to be a real firearm. The teen cooperated with MPO Smith, taking the air pistol from his waistband and dropping it over the railing in the line of sight of law enforcement. That move built a sense of trust between the two.
"I would kind of gain a little bit. I got him to crawl back over and straddle the railing. I still can’t get over that jersey barrier and get to him, but we’re kind of making progress and I could see that too."
As the clock ticked to get the juvenile to safety, Great Falls Fire Rescue responded its water vessel in the Missouri River below and other responding officers helped with traffic control and other tasks. Finally, the two were seen embracing each other on the side of the street, MPO Smith says, "It's going to be okay... Let's go back to the station and talk."
Patience and compassion were needed on that early September morning. It's a morning that resonates with law enforcement officers across the area and state. Montana is one of the unfortunate leaders in suicide across all age demographics in the United States. Every 11 minutes, a suicide in the U.S. is carried out, with that number, in Montana, there are 6 survivors, tallying 300 total suicide survivors each year. DPHHS reports that there are a number of reasons why Montana has been ranked a top suicide hot spot, in the last 30 years, such as vitamin D deficiency, social isolation, and access to lethal means.
MPO Smith says that it isn't uncommon for GFPD officers to be called on a minimum of one suicide call per day. He said recently, a colleague had a similar experience on the same bridge two weeks ago.
"These are not uncommon but when it’s a juvenile that’s scary and it kind of brings up a scary stat for Montana. Our juvenile suicide rate is more than double the national average, and that’s worrisome," added Smith.
As a father, law enforcement officer, and loved one to someone, MPO Smith encourages everyone to check in with family members and friends this holiday season. Check for the warning signs of isolating inside their home, selling or getting rid of many of their belongings, and talking about suicide are the best preventative methods.
MPO Smith said that he's shed a tear twice in his seven years on the force. One time a colleague was injured in the line of duty and the other after that evening in September.
"To see that reward of getting that young man to get help. He got treatment, and he called me afterward and he thanked me for everything and he’s kind of stayed in touch. We’ve bounced things off each other and he’s expressed interest in becoming law enforcement. That gratification isn’t just the one-minute hug on the bridge, it’s everything that follows that. It's to see that he’s still getting that care and help he needs."
If you or someone you know is having the thought of suicide, dial 988 for the Suicide Crisis Line.