Port Angeles suicide threats spike during one 24-hour period

PORT ANGELES — Law enforcement officials responded to a steep increase in suicide threats in Port Angeles in a five-hour period Wednesday that defied explanation and appeared unconnected, far exceeding the average of about one such incident per day, according to police reports.

Officers responded to five suicidal attempt-threats between 10:35 a.m. and 5:46 p.m. Wednesday in the city limits. The threats were listed on the daily call-for-service log that lists incidents that Peninsula Communications makes available to the media.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office handled a sixth such call on Sunnybrook Meadows Lane east of Port Angeles at 8:26 a.m. Wednesday, according to the log.

“I would certainly describe it as an unexplained spike in the statistic,” Port Angeles Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada said.

None of the calls Wednesday involved the Eighth Street bridges, where two men and a 15-year-old teenage girl have committed suicide since June, and where City Council members have pledged to erect higher barriers — without setting a specific deadline.

No one was injured Wednesday in the incidents.

Viada said he did not recall that many suicide-threat calls for service in one day in his 23 years in the department.

Viada said that from Nov. 20, 2016, to Nov. 20, 2017, officers responded to an average of one suicide, suicide attempt or suicide threat every 33 hours for a total of 263 calls in that period.

The total includes six suicides in Port Angeles from Jan. 1 to Nov. 22, 2017, five of them females, according to Clallam County Coroner-Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols.

Peninsula Behavioral Health CEO Wendy Sisk said Thursday that general statistics show that it’s “absolutely false” that suicides increase during the holidays.

She said suicides occur in the spring more than any other time of year.

She said she could not explain the increase.

“The vast majority of people we see don’t pass through law enforcement,” Sisk said.

PBH does not specifically track suicides as part of the staff’s crisis intervention because it is a symptom of other mental health concerns, she said.

“It’s not uncommon for us to see more than one [suicidal] person in a day,” Sisk said.

“Five does seem high in a short period of time.

“But we do see clusters.

“What we do know is that when we see a lot of publicity around suicides, sometimes you see copycat behavior. You do see an uptick.”

She said in an email that Wednesday there were 10 referrals of community members for face-to-face crisis intervention.

Two were referred under “Sheena’s Law,” under which officers take people into custody if there is probable cause they are a threat to themselves or others, and deliver them to an emergency room or a mental health crisis facility.

Four were referred to PBH for involuntary commitment and four individuals “reached out to us directly for help,” Sisk said in the email.

The calls to the Port Angeles Police department were at 10:35 a.m. in the 1100 block of East Lauridsen Blvd., 12:47 p.m. in the 1000 block of East Front Street, 2:01 p.m. in the 300 block of East Fifth Street, 2:16 p.m. in the 300 block of East Park Avenue and 5:46 p.m. in the 100 block of West Fifth Street.

A person from outside the area who called a police station dispatcher was worried about a loved one in Port Angeles being suicidal.

The loved one was not located, Viada said.

The call from East Park Avenue was from Port Angeles High School about a 14-year-old student.

He had left the school, was said to be possibly suicidal and could not be located, Viada said.

Viada said the student was later reported to be safe and with his family.

The caller from West Fifth Street had asked officers to respond to a person at an apartment that officers had gone to on Tuesday for the same reason.

An officer determined that the person “was not deemed a threat to themselves,” Viada said.

The Wednesday morning call for Sheriff’s Office assistance was for a man who was upset over a child-custody issue who was not suicidal, said Brian King, county sheriff’s office chief criminal deputy.

Sheriff’s deputies have responded to 152 incidents from Jan. 1 through Dec. 13 in which a person made a suicide threat or had attempted suicide, or was in a mental health crisis, King said.

There were 108 individuals who were involuntarily committed as a result of those incidents.

“Basically we are responding to somebody having some type of mental health crisis every 56 hours,” King said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.

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