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City of Tempe to issue water rescue 'throw bags' to every Tempe police officer

Initiative aims to honor the life of drowning victim Sean Bickings
Posted at 11:21 PM, Aug 19, 2022

TEMPE — The city of Tempe announced Friday an initiative to help prevent drowning incidents at Tempe Town Lake and Kiwanis Lake after the death of Sean Bickings on May 28.

According to the release, new measures include placing rescue devices around the two lakes and to issue a water rescue 'throw bag' to every Tempe police officer.

The rescue devices are described as rings connected to 100-foot ropes around the lakes. The water rescue rings are to be installed this fall.

The throw bags are described by the city as similar to ones used by U.S. Navy Seals. Officials say officer training on how to use the throw bags is to be completed this summer.

In addition to physical implementations, the city says officers will undergo training in the 'Transformational Policing Model.'

"The model works to educate and bring local police and community members of color together to address historic challenges and successfully partner for the future," the city says in a release.

The city says it is also working on a program to help people experiencing homelessness address outstanding court matters like misdemeanor arrest warrants, outstanding fines and fees, and suspended driver's licenses.

Bickings was unsheltered and had three outstanding felony warrants for minor drug charges.

Lastly, the city says Tempe's crisis response team, CARE 7, will now be automatically dispatched for calls involving homelessness, homicide, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Before, CARE 7 was dispatched only when police or fire personnel requested it, according to the city.

City officials call Bickings' death a 'true tragedy' in its announcement of new implementations.

Officers were called to the area near Tempe Town Lake for reports of a possible domestic dispute on May 28 between Bickings and his partner.

Police say during their questioning, Bickings jumped a fence and entered the lake near the pedestrian bridge.

Bickings swam about 40 yards out before starting to struggle. Bickings drowned in the lake.

After the incident, two Valley law enforcement agencies began investigations into how the three Tempe police officers acted as Bickings and his partner pleaded for police to help prevent the drowning.

In an administrative review by the Scottsdale Police Department, it was determined that the Tempe police officers should not have attempted to rescue Bickings. The report cites multiple reasons why the officers may not have attempted a water rescue, including the fact that Bickings may have pulled down anyone who was not properly equipped or trained to rescue him.

The review includes the opinion of people from various agencies, including an official from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, a sergeant from MCSO's lake patrol division, and a boating unit supervisor from Bullhead City Police Department — all three stating that they would not have entered the water.

Scottsdale's full review is attached below.

The city says Tempe police is currently conducting a death investigation in the case and is expected to be finished by late summer. According to the release, Tempe has requested that the Arizona Department of Public Safety review the investigation.