Colchester: Commendation for officer who talked an autistic woman down from car park ledge
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An officer who was just eight weeks into her tutorship when she talked an autistic woman down from the top of a multi-storey car park after a four-hour stand-off has been commended by Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington
PC Laura Barlow and her tutor, PC Ivan Sharplin, were called to the car park in Colchester town centre one evening in April last year after reports of concern for a woman’s welfare.
They found the woman sitting on a ledge at the top of the car park. Initial attempts to get her to talk failed so the officers stayed with her while identity checks were carried out.
Meanwhile, roads around the car park were closed off and police negotiators arrived at the scene.
The woman was identified after an officer remembered dealing with a missing person of the same description months earlier. The team then made enquiries with neighbouring police forces that revealed the woman was autistic and unlikely to engage with questions.
By this time, the woman had been on the ledge for more than three hours and appeared to be getting sleepy. The temperature had dropped to just 3C.
With time against them, the negotiation team changed their approach by only asking the woman questions that only required yes or no answers, and brought in PC Barlow to speak to her as they believed the woman would be more likely to engage with someone of a similar age.
PC Barlow was successful in building a rapport and after more than four hours on the ledge, the woman climbed down to safety.
PC Barlow said the commendation was “a shock and completely unexpected” and thanked PC Sharplin for his support throughout what was initially a daunting experience.
She described the situation on the night:
“When we arrived, we could see a silhouette in the distance looking out over a drop that would have killed her. It was 11 o’clock at night, pitch black and cold. “She was just wearing a t-shirt and at one point she looked like she was falling asleep. She started to slip when she was leaning against the roof next to her and it was looking like she might even fall accidentally. “When we changed tack, I told her if she came down, she wouldn’t have to talk, she could just sit there and we’d get her somewhere warm. That worked almost straight away. “She turned around, got herself down and was able to talk to me. It was great to make that breakthrough. “There were multiple occasions where we thought she might fall, so the sense of relief was instant. You could feel it from everyone there. I was glad we were able to stay with her throughout.”
Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington praised PC Barlow after presenting her with a framed certificate at headquarters.
He said: “This was an incredibly delicate situation that reached a safe conclusion thanks to the outstanding work of PC Barlow. “As a police officer, the ability to build a rapport with people is so important and PC Barlow’s ability to make a connection with the vulnerable young woman prevented her from coming to serious harm. “For somebody so new to policing, PC Barlow’s professionalism and calmness were exemplary. She should be incredibly proud of her actions.”
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