He climbed onto a crane on a construction site in Zurich-Oerlikon and just couldn’t get down. A Portuguese (34) entrenched himself at a dizzy height on Monday evening and kept setting fires. The police and fire brigade responded in large numbers. The area was cordoned off extensively. The man kept the emergency services on their toes for 16 hours. Then finally he gave up. He could be persuaded to leave the crane.
But how exactly do such conversations take place? Police psychologist Christian Weidkuhn (57) knows that exactly. He worked for the Graubünden canton police for 20 years before becoming self-employed and now working as a freelance police psychologist and trainer in Switzerland and abroad.
Before the negotiator speaks to the person in such a crisis situation, one thing is particularly important: information – as much as possible. “It’s about getting an idea of the person and thus finding out about a possible motive,” says Weidkuhn to Blick. Perhaps the person has drug problems, family difficulties, such as a breakup. “It’s about understanding and getting to know the person better.”
“The person must feel understood”
Only then can contact be established with the person. With the goal: First of all to gain trust. Weidkuhn: “The conversation usually starts out trivial and harmless. Just small talk. It is important to create an emotional level. to find common ground.” It could be anything. Children, Hobbies, Pets. “If he has a dog, you ask for its name and breed. The person needs to feel understood. At eye level. No judgment or judgement.”
According to Weidkuhn, it almost never happens that a person shuts himself off completely and is not ready for a conversation. «There are always some starting points to build up a basis of trust with the person. But it is also important to have as much information about the person as possible beforehand.”
Only when a basis of trust has been established can one carefully ask about the motive. Because often the people in an exceptional situation would not even know why they are doing it. “If you talk about it, it often helps people who are in such a state of emergency to come to themselves again. Thinking changes. They are slowly coming back to reality from panic mode,” explains the police psychologist.
“The colleagues needed perseverance”
The negotiator would then point out perspectives and solutions on how things can continue for the person. Which consequences the action can have from a legal point of view and which further support measures can be offered.
Important: «Not in a negative sense. People who find themselves in such a state of emergency need support and security. And if they know clearly what to expect, that helps them.”
Such assignments can sometimes take longer. As in Oerlikon. “The mission in Zurich lasted 16 hours. Colleagues needed perseverance. But in the end it was worth it,” says Weidkuhn.
Crane action had nationwide effects
In the case of the crane climber, many questions remain unanswered. Above all, the motive for the action. The Portuguese, who lives in Zurich, has not yet been questioned. “He is still in medical care,” says Michael Walker from the Zurich city police to Blick. It is also unclear what penalties he faces now. According to Walker, there are arson, property damage and bodily harm in the room. But it’s still too early to give specific details.
On the other hand, one thing is clear: there were disruptions at SBB. “Due to the incident, there were several track closures and a total interruption during which Oerlikon station could not be used,” says SBB spokesman Martin Meier to Blick. And because the east-west axis was affected, the incident also had an impact throughout Switzerland.
Meier: “Several hundred trains were affected during the several hours, there were diversions, premature turns and failures.” The SBB cannot provide any information on the extent of the damage.
Even the construction company Marti AG cannot say how expensive the crane campaign will cost them. However, experts are currently in the process of determining the amount of damage, explains Richard Mader, Head of Building Construction. However, the affected crane at Oerlikon train station was severely damaged and must be replaced.