Police officer saves teen’s life with a bear hug on Burrard Bridge

Cont. Brad Mears, responding to a call of a distraught man climbing the bridge’s suicide fencing, raced to the scene and was able to grab the man from behind and restrain him until help arrived

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Part training, part instinct, Const. Brad Mears’ quick action on April 17 saved a teenager’s life.

Mears was alone on duty that Saturday, midway through his shift and parked beneath the Burrard Bridge to fill out a report from an earlier incident, when a call came over his radio. Several people had phoned 911 to report a distraught-looking young man climbing the fencing on the bridge above.

The constable drove to the spot as fast as he could.

“At that point, I realized I’m the only one going, and working alone,” Mears told Postmedia over the phone from the Vancouver Police Department. “As I drive up, I see him climbing the fencing.”

Mears stopped his car and realized the person, who turned out to be a teenage male, hadn’t seen or heard him yet as he continued to climb.

“So I take that opportunity, realizing he’s still climbing up, I run up to him. He still doesn’t see me and I grab him by the waist.”

Mears had him in a bear hug from behind, telling him he’s the police, pleading with him not to jump, not to do it.

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“He’s begging me, ‘Hey man, let me die, let me jump.’”

As Mears had him around the waist, the teen continued to struggle and try to climb. This went on for a couple of minutes until another squad car could arrive and another officer could pry the suicidal teen’s hands off the railing.

“The whole time, he’s begging me to let him jump. He’s a teenager. I just feel I have to help this guy.”

Mears, 26, has been with the VPD for a year, after four years serving with the force in Delta, which deals with similar situations all too often on the Alex Fraser Bridge.

There was opposition when the suicide fencing went up on Burrard Bridge five years ago, but that fencing was what gave Mears time to get to the young man while he was still trying to climb the bridge.

“Having the fencing like they have on Burrard Bridge helps a lot, it gives us a little more time to act and help these people any way we can while they’re in crisis,” Mears said.

Instinct told him to move and move fast; training told him how to do that safely, he said.

Mears is by no means the only police officer who has responded to attempts at suicide, and indeed who has prevented a suicide, he made clear. But in most cases there is time to do more than restrain a person until help arrives.

And, like other police departments, the VPD has trained negotiators, one of whom is Const. Tania Visintin.

“We go to these critical incidents, whether it be suicides or hostage situations, domestic or whatnot, and we’re trained in talking to people,” Visintin said.

Initially, the suicide-prevention talker will attempt to engage the person contemplating taking their life. Without giving away training methods or tactics, Visintin said: “Essentially, we try to always resolve a critical incident with communication alone.”

She is grateful, she added, she has not had a failed prevention herself.

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre

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