A five-hour standoff last week ended with a woman being taken to the hospital for medical evaluation after several disturbances at her West Berkeley home, police said.
The woman, who was in mental health crisis, was breaking out windows Tuesday from her home in the 1100 block of Bancroft Way, not far from San Pablo Avenue. That alarmed neighbors on the street, which included two daycare centers, said Sgt. Christian Stines of the Berkeley Police Department.
Stines, the supervisor on the scene that day, said police used negotiation and de-escalation techniques to help calm the woman down and convince her to agree to be taken for treatment. Multiple people heard the call over the scanner and asked Berkeleyside to find out what had taken place. For a period of time, the emergency beeper was broadcast over the radio, which increased community interest in the call, too.
BPD initially got calls twice in the middle of the night that a woman was breaking out her windows by throwing objects into them. But she was inside her home and refused to leave, and police initially hoped to avoid confrontation because no one else was in immediate harm.
“We don’t want to get into a confrontation with you in your own house,” he said. So officers told the woman, “We just want to help you. If you don’t want help, we’ll leave.”
By about 9 in the morning, however, heavy glass objects continued to fly, and there was broken glass on the sidewalk, so police decided they needed to resolve the situation. There were also some reports that the woman might have access to a Taser and a machete, which was an additional concern. Police blocked off some traffic in the area while they decided how to proceed.
Stines said police negotiators were able to develop a rapport with the woman and figure out “what she needed to be able to accept some help.” Eventually, she agreed to be removed from her home. Due to mobility issues, the Berkeley Fire Department was called in to get the woman outside and into an ambulance. The call wrapped up by about 2 p.m.
Stines called the situation “a little unusual” because BPD actually sent negotiators inside the home despite the possible security concerns.
“It was the right call to make,” he said. “That face-to-face contact, her calming down enough to tolerate it, that allowed us to resolve it.”
Stines said it was a “judgment call” to send in officers despite the weapons reports, and it “required the negotiators to be on their toes and have a sense of how much they could trust the rapport they were building.” It also required “a lot of faith in our people to be able to read the need on that,” he said. While inside, the officers worked to maintain safe distances to ensure they weren’t in range of possible harm.
“They did a fantastic job of, little by little, incrementally psychologically and physically getting her to comply,” he said. Stines said, ultimately, police did find some objects in the home that could have been used as weapons.
Stines said officers were continuously reassessing the scene to determine whether there was a hazard to the public, and worked to maintain communication with the woman as long as possible. They learned the woman hadn’t slept, and that there might be other medical issues at play, and were concerned she might cut her bare feet on broken glass. They wanted to be sure she wasn’t in immediate harm either.
“We needed to be close enough to maintain contact,” Stines said. “If she had not engaged, it might have been a different situation. But, as long as she did, we weren’t going to walk away.”
In the end, Stines said cooperation from the woman’s relatives was a significant factor in getting to a successful resolution where the woman was able to get the help she needed. The family was sharing information to help officers understand the challenges the woman was facing, and relatives helped keep neighbors and others on the scene calm during the response. Stines said he was “really thankful” to the family for their contributions.
“They were very much working with us,” Stines said. “We were explaining everything we were doing, step by step. It was a real family-police partnership to try and get her safely out of the situation.”