Patrols help reduce Golden Gate suicide rateDecember 30, 1996
Web posted at: 6:30 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Susan Reed
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- For most people, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world's most memorable tourist attractions, a landmark as easily identifiable as New York's Statue of Liberty or Paris' Eiffel Tower.
But for others, the historic span represents a much darker destination. They come to the scenic bridge to commit suicide by leaping into the cold, choppy waters of San Francisco Bay.
Since the 1.7-mile-long suspension bridge connecting Marin County to San Francisco opened in 1937, more than 1,000 people have jumped to their deaths from the Golden Gate.
But the rate has dropped dramatically since April 1, when the Golden Gate Bridge Patrol began monitoring the bridge as part of a $111,300 pilot suicide prevention program.
Every day, from dawn to dusk, a patrolman on a scooter drives back and forth across the Golden Gate, his only mission to stop potential jumpers before it's too late.
"They move differently than you or I would move," said Lt. Lou Garcia. "When you pass by them, you try, what I try to do ... is to get their slightest attention so they look at me. If they don't, I elevate my attention."
That attention seems to be working. In 1995, at least 45 people used the bridge as a platform for suicide, the highest in its 59-year history. But since the patrols began, there have been just 24 fatal jumps.
The patrol workers study all people on the bridge, looking for clues to identify potential jumpers from among the tourists. They note the way people walk, the way they hold their heads, what they're looking at, whether they have cameras.
Still, there are suicides. And they're tough on the bridge patrolmen.
"The guy gets out of the car, goes to the rail and goes over," said Bridge Capt. Ronald Garcia of one memorable and tragic suicide. "(The) officer got the guy's hand, but he was already over the rail. And he just said, 'Tell everybody I love 'em' and left. That's very hard on somebody."
Suicide prevention authorities believe many people can be talked out of jumping.
"We've talked to people who have jumped and survived the fall," said John Vidaurri of San Francisco Suicide Prevention. "And most of them have said once they leave the platform of the bridge, they've regretted jumping off."
But so far, the Golden Gate Bridge Patrol has done a good job of stopping things from getting that far.
Since April, according to a report released earlier this month, patrol workers have prevented as many as 34 potential jumpers from killing themselves.
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