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June 29, 2014

County Crisis Services and Park Police look to stem Niagara Falls suicides

Tonawanda News — NIAGARA FALLS — It is a natural wonder that attracts upwards of 8 million visitors a year.

Its wild, cascading rapids and breathtaking 167-foot plunge places Niagara Falls as one of the top tourist destinations in the world. 

Yet for all its spectacle and grandeur, the falls also has a dark side. 

A search of Internet web sites that cater to troubled souls shows the falls as one of the top 10 spots for those who seek to commit suicide. One popular list even ranks the falls as high as fourth on its top 10 list of “Famous Landmarks That Are Creepy Suicide Magnets.”

It’s a distinction that keeps both police and mental health professionals alert.

“What we’re looking at is increasing prevention, instead of intervention,” said Jim Swift, the supervising social worker with the NIagara County Department of Mental Health’s Crisis Services program. “Our interventions have been going up, so we want to increase prevention (to bring interventions down).”

“Intervention” is the term that applies to when Swift and State Parks Police negotiators are called to the falls to deal with folks in crisis who have waded into the water or are threatening to jump. The goal then, is keep those people from getting close to the brink or going over.

On the front line of efforts to increase and improve “prevention” are what are known as the “Blue Phones.” With beacons of blue light that can been seen from up to half a mile away, the five phones are located at spots in the state park that hopefully will draw the attention of those who are looking to take their own lives.

“When (someone looking to commit suicide) comes here, they see the phones,” State Parks Police Major David Page said. “The phones make them aware that before they go over (the falls) there is still hope.”

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