Every call is a different challenge
When a naked woman walked into Farmington's Anchor Bank last week it didn't take long for the police officers who responded they were dealing with someone who was having psychological problems.
It was an unusual situation, but police chief Brian Lindquist described the incident as an extreme example of something that happens on a daily basis rather than something completely out of the ordinary. Whether it's drugs or alcohol or simple stress, police find themselves on a regular basis dealing with people who are not in their right mind for one reason or another.
"Any time you deal with anybody who is under the influence of alcohol or narcotics they all take on a different psychological personality than they are under normal circumstances," Lindquist said. "People who are going through a divorce, for instance, or a loss of job, loss of family member can go through different psychological states of mind."
For some people that means getting drunk and getting in a fight. For others it means means breaking something. And for at least one woman it meant stripping down and walking into a bank.
Lindquist doesn't know what caused the woman who visited Anchor Bank to act the way she did and he probably never will. What he knows -- and what he says is the important information for any police officer to know -- is that she didn't show the signs of aggression police typically see if someone is on drugs or in a state of excited delirium.
It's ultimately not a police officer's job to figure out why people are behaving strangely.
"It can be very unsettling at times, because I get asked often, 'What do you think they were thinking?'" Lindquist said. "I can't tell you what they were thinking. To be honest, if I tried to tell you what they were thinking I'd probably go a little nuts myself."
Police are not trained to act as an on-the-scene psychologist. A police officer's job is to figure out whether the person is a threat to himself or others, then get them where they need to go. For some that's jail. For others it's a hospital. In the case of last week's incident, it meant calling an ambulance and getting the woman medical and psychological.
After that, it's out of their hands.
"We are not equipped to deal with that long term," Lindquist said. "We are equipped to respond and secure scenes and make sure people are safe. That's our first mission."
Whatever happens, it's always in a police officer's best interest to approach a situation as if they don't know the person they're talking to. Lindquist responded to enough calls in his days as a patrol officer to know that even someone he's dealt with peacefully hundreds of times could be in a volatile state the 101st time he sees them.
Figuring that all out requires a lot of quick analysis. Lindquist said police tend to remember from one incident to the next the indicators of different types of behavior. They know the signs someone has been drinking or using drugs.
"It's almost something that is second nature for us because that's what we do," Lindquist said. "We ask questions and we investigate. We want to know what led up to this. It's all kind of part of our basic wiring to figure out what's going on."