- The Tempe, Arizona, cops who refused to rescue a drowning man were following their training, a local police union said.
- Members of the Tempe Police Department receive “no training in water rescues,” the union said.
- Sean Bickings, 34, died on May 28 after he jumped into a lake and drowned while police stood by.
The Tempe, Arizona, cops who refused to rescue a man drowning in an area lake were following their training by not jumping in to save him, according to the local police union.
Members of the Tempe Police Department receive “no training in water rescues” and do not have “equipment to help people at risk of drowning,” the Tempe Officers Association — which represents officers of the Tempe police force — said in a statement to Insider on Tuesday.
“Attempting such a high-risk rescue could easily result in the death of the person in the water and the officer, who could be pulled down by a struggling adult,” the union said. “Officers are trained to call the Fire Department and/or get the Tempe Police boat. That is what officers did here.”
Three Tempe police officers have been put on paid leave as the department investigates their response to the May 28 drowning of 34-year-old Sean Bickings.
The City of Tempe has not identified the cops involved, and body camera footage released by the city blurred their faces and their nametags.
Bickings, who the city has described as “unsheltered,” drowned after he jumped into the Tempe Town Lake while talking with police.
The Tempe officers who were at the scene at the time did not go into the water after Bickings even as he struggled to stay afloat and pleaded for help, according to a police body-camera-footage transcript that was released by the city last week.
“I’m drowning,” Bickings told Tempe Police Department officers during the incident, the transcript shows.
When officers told Bicking to go over to a pylon, he responded, “I can’t. I can’t.”
“OK, I’m not jumping in after you,” an officer told Bickings, who then responded, “Please help me. Please, please, please.”
“I can’t touch. Oh, God, please help me. Help me,” Bickings said.
The Tempe cops were speaking with Bickings just after 5 am after someone reported seeing a dispute between Bickings and a woman who identified herself to police as his wife, officials said.
Officials said Bickings climbed over a 4-foot metal fence and hopped into the water as cops were running the couple’s names through a database to check on any outstanding arrest warrants as part of standard procedure.
The Tempe Officers Association noted in its statement that the cops’ exchange with Bickings “was largely cordial prior to Mr. Bickings’ entering the lake” and said he had been “free to go at any time.”
The Tempe Officers Association called the death of Bickings “a human tragedy.”
“To watch the 11-minute video leading up to Mr. Bickings’ entering Tempe Town Lake and to understand how this 911 call ended is to see an awful loss of life. Our grievance mirrors our community’s grievance. No one wanted this incident to end as it did,” the union said.
The union said it will “work for a change” in how the city and the Tempe Police Department “approach potential water incidents in Tempe Town Lake, including instituting training and equipment changes.”
“We will work with the city and the community to ensure that such an incident never happens again,” the union said.
Tempe Police is conducting Bickings’ death investigation and the Arizona Department of Public Safety will review that investigation after it is finished, the city said.
The Scottsdale Police Department has also begun an “administrative review of the critical incident response,” according to the city.
“Tempe initiated this step for public trust and transparency. That investigation is expected to take several weeks,” the city said.
The city said that it and the Tempe Police Department “are examining water response protocols and equipment needs for officers as well as for placement of rescue equipment around bodies of water.”
Additional portions of police body-camera footage surrounding the May 28 incident are expected to be released later this week.