Urbana Police de-escalate dangerous situation with help from UIPD therapy dog

URBANA, Ill. – A University of Illinois Police therapy K9 contributed to the Urbana Police Department’s  safe resolution of a tense situation Saturday morning after police were called to help a man who hurt himself with a knife and was threatening to harm himself further.

Officers with the Urbana Police Department were the first to respond to a 911 call about a man who was inside a bus shelter in the 1000 block of West Green Street, Urbana.  When they arrived they found a 38-year-old man with a knife threatening suicide and who, at one point, cut and stabbed himself in the presence of officers. Urbana police officers spoke with the man for more than an hour. They worked to calm and de-escalate the situation and learned, amongst other things, that he was fond of dogs.

University of Illinois Police Officer Alex Tran and his partner, K9 Lollipop, were at home on a scheduled day off from work, but quickly respond when they were called in. When they arrived at the bus shelter, officers told the man that he could meet with a friend that had been summoned to the scene, have a cigarette, and see K9 Lollipop if he dropped the knife. He ultimately surrendered the knife and was allowed some time to interact with Lollipop before he was transported to a hospital by ambulance for assessment.

No one was injured, thanks to the empathetic response of the Urbana Police Department and with a little assistance from K9 Lollipop.

The University of Illinois Police Department began using therapy dogs when Police Chief Alice Cary took leadership of the department in July 2020. She brought K9 Archie with her from her previous post as police chief at the University of Maryland Baltimore, and in the time since, the department has added K9s Lollipop, Winston and Rosie.

The therapy dogs are available on patrol shifts and during outreach events as a way for community members to engage in positive interactions with police officers or simply take a moment to relieve some anxiety, whether it is related to a critical incident or just everyday stress. They are also available to visit campus and community groups by request.

“The therapy K9s and their handlers have made a huge impact in just the short time they have been in Champaign-Urbana,” Cary said. “Already, they’ve comforted families involved in a Christmas Eve fire, participated in the interview of a young victim of child abuse, and now helped Urbana Police to successfully de-escalate a very serious call involving an armed individual.”

The U. of I. Police therapy dogs will continue to be around, especially during a time of the semester when mental health crisis calls tend to peak.

“Therapy dogs in general are known to reduce stress and get people out of their mental anguish at times,” Cary said. “They are used a lot of times for students who have pre-test anxiety dealing with midterm or final exams. When students pet the dogs, it helps to get them out of that stressful mind space, if only for a minute. We’ve seen that even a moment’s time with an animal can mean a whole lot to some people.”