AUSTIN, Texas - Officers say we are facing a mental health crisis in this country. Suicidal subject calls are increasing. Officers from Austin to the smaller Pflugerville are responding to hundreds, even thousands of cases per year. In this week’s Crimewatch FOX 7's Noelle Newton shows you at the incredible risk officers are taking to save these people and get them the help they need.
On October 11th, Dennis Gundy, found himself in the middle of negotiations between Pflugerville police and an armed, suicidal man.
He snapped photos while taking cover in his truck.
"He was walking right at them with a gun,” Gundy said.
Just when he starts recording video an officer breaks away from the pack, tackles the man and disarms him.
"Didn't care about his own life, but saved that guy's life. It was amazing. Bravest thing I've ever seen done,” said Gundy.
That officer on video was Detective James Colligan he was on his way to lunch when he responded in plain clothes without a vest.
"Those were probably the longest three seconds of my life,” said Colligan.
Colligan says just before noon, the man's friend called 9-1-1 to report that he had a gun and intended on hurting himself. When the man got to the Heatherwilde overpass above the 45 toll, his truck died.
That is where officers gathered. Colligan says twice the man threw his gun out of his truck and went back for it while officers stood with their guns drawn.
Colligan says the man came out of his truck a third time approaching officers while holding the gun.
"He said some things to the effect of 'shoot me, kill me, shoot me,’” said Colligan. "It was just seconds of, he turned around, he walks away, and it was probably three seconds before I could get to him from where I had holstered my weapon and I ran with everything I had to get to him and tackle him."
The goal was achieved. The man got another chance at life. For that, his daughter expressed her gratitude.
"She was very thankful for us not shooting her father and providing him with the mental health assistance that he desperately needed,” said Colligan.
The day before, the City of Austin was the scene of another success story. Police respond to a suicidal man with one leg over the Highway 71 flyover. It is rush hour. The highway is shut down as officers talk with the man.
Officer: "You know people make mistakes in life. I've made a bunch of them."
An hour and 30 minutes later the man kicks his leg over and walks to safety. Officers embrace him.
Officer: "It's going to be alright man. Thank you for making that good decision."
During the past six months APD has responded to 710 suicidal subject calls.
Even for smaller Pflugerville the number is significant with 255 since January 1st.
"This year has been a tough year,” said Pflugerville Interim Chief Jim McLean.
Interim Chief Jim McLean says in addition to the call involving Detective Colligan, officers have had to use force in another suicide-by-cop situation-- striking an armed woman with a bean bag round and a taser.
"When an officer is placed in a situation like that it takes a toll on them. You know, as a police officer, when you wake up in the morning, the last thing we want to do that day is take a life. That's not how we're geared. It's to safe life, protect life,” said McLean.
Pflugerville has seven crisis intervention team members who specialize in mental health cases.
To provide assistance beyond the call mental health professionals hold appointments weekly at the department to make it easier for those in need to get help.
"We see a lot of recidivism in mental health calls. If we can create that bond and that relationship with that person and establish trust, a lot of times they'll call us and say we have this issue going on and I need help and we can address that before it gets to a situation like what we've been dealing with lately,” said McLean.
While preserving life is the ultimate goal, officers know they may not always get that option.
They are thankful for the instances like these.
"Everybody went home,” said Colligan.
If you, a family member or friend is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.