By Kit Slack
A Hyattsville police officer made national news March 13 by sitting on the floor of a gas station convenience store. A photo snapped at the Sunoco gas station on the East-West Highway shows the officer sitting cross-legged, wrists dangling over his knees, with tattoos peeking out of his uniform sleeves.
Was he meditating? No. Officer Edgar Andrickson-Franco said that he was actually doing what he has done on most days during his three years as a police officer: making “an attempt to understand and to level with” an agitated person. Adrickson-Franco said that this tactic has stuck with him since his training days at the police academy.
Andrickson-Franco said that he and his partner, Officer Mancini Gaskill, received a call to come to the Sunoco because a customer in the store was irate and confused. An employee at the Sunoco thought that the man might have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Andrickson-Franco said that when he and Gaskill arrived at the store, “I noticed the gentleman in the middle of the store pacing back and forth … he was stuttering.” Rather than answer questions that the officers asked, the man repeated the questions or said something abusive.
The officers called in medical support and worked to gain the man’s confidence, eventually obtaining his cell phone. Andrickson-Franco used the phone to redial the last-called number, and connected with someone who gave him a number for the agitated man’s cousin.
When emergency medical services arrived, the man refused care. Andrickson-Franco and Gaskill waited about 90 minutes for the man’s cousin to pick him up.
As they waited, the man dropped his belongings and sank to the tile floor. Andrickson-Franco dropped down on the tile floor too, a few feet away.
His partner snapped a picture. The picture went viral, and the news spread around the country. MSNBC interviewed Andrickson-Franco, live.
When the Hyattsville Life & Times asked Andrickson-Franco what experiences or training prompted his approach, he first credited his upbringing. “Whether I’m a cop or not, we are all human beings, and we all have bad days,” he said.
Adrienne Augustus, media relations coordinator and mental health programs manager for the City of Hyattsville Police Department, said that she often hears similar stories from officers, and notes the compassionate and respectful language that Hyattsville’s officers use when they talk about the people they encounter in their work. She said that she has been encouraging officers to snap pictures of positive interactions with the community so she can share them on the department’s Facebook page.
According to Augustus, the man’s family expressed gratitude to the officers for their handling of the situation, and said a medication mixup may have led to the incident.
The day after the incident, Andrickson-Franco was one of a group of officers who participated in a mental health first aid training. According to Augustus, other upcoming department trainings cover domestic violence response, post-traumatic stress disorder and autism awareness.
And while Andrickson-Franco was not meditating on March 13, he will have an opportunity to take up the practice this month. Trainings for Hyattsville police in April will introduce officers to meditation and yoga. The department will also offer a resilience support program that includes 21 days of morning and evening reflections.