Standing on the overpass above the 405 Freeway in Westminster, faced with the very real possibility of a man jumping to his death in front of him, Officer Abel Jimenez’s training kicked in.
Keep the conversation positive. Keep calm.
“It helped me a lot,” said the Westminster PD officer, who began at the agency in March 2016. “I was able to keep a very calm and collected head in the situation … just remembering what I was taught.”
It was Monday, May 1 around 6 p.m. when Jimenez got a call from dispatch while on patrol about a male subject sitting on the 405 Freeway overpass.
“He looked like he might jump,” said Jimenez.
A California Highway Patrol officer was on the scene when Jimenez arrived. The officer told Jimenez that when he tried to get closer to the man, he threatened to jump.
“I started to make contact with the subject,” said Jimenez.
The man sat on the railing of the overpass as Jimenez approached and asked if he could talk to him. The man yelled back that he didn’t want to talk. As Jimenez got closer, the man went from sitting to crouching on the railing to moving outside the railing. Jimenez stopped moving when the man told him to not come any closer.
“I was trying to gauge how close he would let me get to him,” he said.
At this point, southbound traffic was closed, though northbound was still open. Jimenez requested that the fire department set up airbags on the freeway below. It was also nearing shift change at about this time, so he knew “the entire shift change was headed my way.”
Meanwhile, Jimenez “just tried to communicate with the subject and create a dialogue.”
At first the man was not responsive and didn’t want to tell Jimenez his name or why he was out there. Then a woman appeared at the scene and screamed at the man – and from this, Jimenez got his name. Officers moved the woman away to keep her from escalating the situation.
Jimenez just kept talking, “let him know that I cared, that I didn’t want to see him hurt.”
He talked to the man about the resources available to him, among other things.
“I just tried to reassure him that whatever it was that was going on in his life could be fixed and could be helped,” Jimenez said.
The man didn’t say much. The only sign Jimenez had that he might be reaching him was an occasional look back.
But then he learned he had a young daughter about to turn 1. Because Jimenez has kids, he started talking about children.
“I talked about [him]taking his daughter to Disneyland [for]the first time … and she deserves [that]experience with him and he deserves [that]experience with her,” he said. “That seemed to resonate with him.”
At one point, the man started to cry. Jimenez pointed out to him that his emotion was a good sign – that he didn’t want to hurt himself, he just needed help.
Over the 45-minute talk, Jimenez would take opportunities to edge closer and closer. The man continued to alternate between sitting and crouching.
“I started to talk to him about just general things, sports things,” he said.
Then the man asked for a cigarette. Jimenez said he’d be happy to get him one and he asked him to come sit on the curb and they could talk.
The man surrendered.
“I think I’m still processing it,” said Jimenez a few days after the incident, adding that it took him a couple of days to even talk about what happened to his wife.
Jimenez, 34, is fairly new to the WPD, but not to law enforcement in general. He joined the military in 2002, becoming a military police officer for the U.S. Air Force. He worked for the Department of Homeland Security in the Transportation Security Administration for eight years before entering the police academy.
But other than his basic academy training, he’s had no other negotiations-type training.
“What helped me a lot is remembering the training I had from my field training officer on how to handle any kind of stressful situation,” he said.
He knew he couldn’t say the wrong thing, so he had to choose his words wisely.
“I was terrified. I was scared,” he said. “I was 100 percent [sure]he was going to jump and I was going to watch this man fall to his death … especially initially, I thought that was absolutely what was going to happen.”
After they started talking, those thoughts lessened, “but it never left my mind.”
He’s just happy it didn’t turn out that way.
“I was grateful I was able to be at the right place at the right time this time,” he said. “You have no idea what is coming on the next call.”