PHOENIX – A Phoenix suburb is reviewing how it handles water rescues as video of three police officers standing nearby while a homeless man drowns sparks an outcry.
The Tempe Police Department says officers are on paid administrative leave after drowning in a city lake last month.
An uproar broke out after Tempe Police released Friday edited footage from officers’ body cameras and a transcript of the May 28 incident.
The video shows Sean Bickings, 34, climbing a four-foot fence along Tempe Town Lake. An officer tells him swimming is not allowed. Bickings then enters the water and begins to swim. Another officer urges police to watch him while he fetches a boat.
The video ends there. But the record shows that two officers repeatedly told Bickings to swim to a pylon and “hold it down.” Bickings keeps saying “I can’t” and asking for help.
At some point one of the officers says, “I’m not going to jump after you.”
Bickings swam a total of about 120 feet under a footbridge, city officials said.
The Tempe Officers Association said the public needs to understand that officers are not trained for water rescue. These officers followed their training and got a boat.
In a press release Monday, the city said officials will reevaluate protocols surrounding water rescues. They will also consider where rescue equipment such as lifebuoys should be placed relative to the lake or a body of water.
Police originally responded to reports of a fight just after 5am between Bickings and a female companion. When asked, both denied that there had been a physical altercation. But officers ran their names through a background check and found that Bickings had three outstanding warrants.
Authorities say Bickings climbed over the fence at this point. According to the record, his companion, who said Bickings was her husband, tried to go after him but officers held her back.
Firefighters recovered Bicking’s body and pronounced him dead.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety and police in the neighboring suburb of Scottsdale are investigating the police response.
Police Chief Jeff Glover met with Bickings’ mother last week. The city said she asked for a video to be released.
Tempe Town Lake is more than 2 miles long and was created in 1999 by damming part of the Salt River. It is a popular spot for jogging, biking, kayaking and other recreational activities.
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