MARC CHASE: Officer's humanity, not badge or gun, saves a life

2013-09-26T00:00:00Z 2013-09-27T09:35:09Z MARC CHASE: Officer's humanity, not badge or gun, saves a lifeMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
September 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Anyone else out there have a job in which talking a suicidal man out of putting a bullet in his head is part of the job description?

Whether that requirement is actually on file in the HR departments of police departments -- and I believe it's at least implied -- Griffith police Cpl. Ryan Bottiger can now put that bit of practical experience on his resume.

Bottiger recently demonstrated the type of thing most of us see only on television cop shows: A negotiating police officer cool on the outside -- but sweating bullets on the inside -- convinces a person, hell-bent on ending his or her life, to step back from the brink.

National Thank a Police Officer Day quietly passed Saturday, and most of us probably didn't take note. But hopefully a 23-year-old man who had recently moved to the region from the South is thanking Bottiger right now. And if he isn't, perhaps we all could extend gratefulness to officers like Bottiger.

It happened on a recent early Sunday morning outside an apartment building on Arbobast in Griffith. Bottiger was sent to a report of the young man holding a gun and threatening suicide.

The corporal slowly approached the man, who was standing next to a vehicle with a fully loaded, semi-automatic pistol pressed to his head.

I'm not going to make what was already a bad day for the suicidal man worse by naming him in this column or getting into the ugly details of what led to the situation.

But Bottiger's reactions -- his instinct and clear-headed judgment -- really deserve note.

By all accounts -- police reports, fellow officers and the chief of police -- Bottiger approached the situation with the right mix of authority and calm.

That didn't seem to work at first, though. The man ignored the initial orders from Bottiger to put the weapon down. Instead, the young man fell to his knees, firmly pressing the handgun to his head, and asked Cpl. Bottiger to apologize to the suicidal man's family, Bottiger recalls.

"I really thought he was going to do it then and there," Bottiger said.

What Bottiger did next -- a softening of his authoritative posture -- might very well have saved this man from taking his own life.

The man had revealed he had a son. Bottiger seized on the detail, asking the young man to think of his son's life without a father. Bottiger even talked to the man about the officer's own children, and what it meant to be a dad.

This human connection -- a cop exchanging the authority of a badge for the more powerful tool of emotion -- worked. The young man put down the gun and surrendered to police.

It all happened in about six minutes.

Bottiger didn't seek this attention he's now getting and only called me after his chief requested it -- after I called.

By all accounts from his chief and fellow officers, Bottiger, a 14-year veteran of the force, is quiet, humble and unassuming. It's now safe to add calm, collected and heroic to that the list.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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