KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — We are learning how the Knoxville Police Department’s crisis negotiation team operates — its officers were spotlighted following a situation where someone’s life was on the line over the weekend. Negotiators got a call that a man was standing on the guardrail of the Baxter Avenue bridge. Ultimately, they were able to convince him to get down.
“We understand that anybody at any time could be put in a situation that they can’t handle. Their emotions may be high, which makes their rationality thinking very low. And our goal is to restore that balance of normal thinking,” said officer Matt Lawson.
Lawson wasn’t on the scene over the weekend, but he is one of 11 crisis negotiators at KPD. “We are a group of patrol officers and investigators that respond to individuals who are actively attempting suicide, bridge jumpers, barricaded suspects and hostage situations,” he said.
Lawson knows his team meets people in the worst moment of their lives. It’s why they continuously train and spend most of their time on scenes listening and building trust. “We like to slow everything down, and utilize our active listening, our de-escalation, report building, and just our communication skills,” said Lawson.
It’s an important job, but for Lawson, he said it hits close to home. “I lost my brother to suicide two years ago. So when I respond to these scenes, it’s very personal because I don’t want any other family or friends to go through what my family and friends went through with the loss of my brother,” he shared.
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His team is making that difference – saving another life just last weekend. “Words can’t describe it when you actually save somebody. It gives you that sense of pride, that sense of that another family member doesn’t have to suffer that day,” Lawson said.
Lawson also mentioned that last year during the pandemic, many of his crisis negotiation team members experienced the highest number of call-outs they’ve ever seen.