Union Defends Officers That Watched Man Drown

They weren't trained in water rescues, Tempe union says
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2022 10:15 AM CDT
Tempe Union Says Officers Aren't Trained in Water Rescues
The Tempe Police Department says the three officers are on administrative paid leave after last month's drowning in the man-made city lake.   (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Police officers in Tempe, Ariz., who refused to rescue a drowning man were following their training, which doesn't include water rescues, their union says. "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 Tempe Officers Association said in a statement, per NPR. Sean Bickings, 34, drowned in Tempe Town Lake after he tried to swim away from officers on May 28. In body camera footage, an officer can be heard telling Bickings "I'm not jumping in after you" as the man pleaded for help. Officers told Bickings to swim toward a bridge pylon.

The union says officers don't have the training or equipment for water rescues, per the Sacramento Bee. Instead, they're trained to call the fire department or call for a police boat, which they did, the union says. The drowning is "a human tragedy," the statement from the officers' association said, per NPR. "Our grief mirrors our community's grief. No one wanted this incident to end as it did." The three officers involved are on paid administrative leave while the investigation is underway.

The union said earlier this week that it will work for a change in how police and the city "approach potential water incidents in Tempe Town Lake, including instituting training and equipment changes," per the Washington Post. Bickings entered the water around 5am while officers were speaking to him about a reported domestic incident. Officers told him he wasn't allowed to swim in the lake but didn't try to arrest him. "Swimming in Tempe Town Lake is a civil violation, not a criminal offense," the union statement said, per the Bee. "Violators receive a ticket; they are not arrested." (More Tempe, Arizona stories.)

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