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Suicide threats stretch police resources

Police say two suicide threats less than 12 hours apart Wednesday reflect the growing number of suicide calls countywide that is not only putting people at risk, but also stretching law enforcement resources.

Both incidents closed streets and forced the evacuation of several nearby homes. An afternoon response to the threat of a "suicide by cop" prompted about 20 Medford officers, including two SWAT vehicles, to rush to the scene.

"It's a perfect storm that seems to be on the increase," said Medford police Chief Tim George. "I think the situation's at crisis level. These kind of calls really put a strain on resources."

The first standoff early Wednesday morning ended peacefully after two hours of negotiation in the 300 block of Benson Street, police said.

Police responded to a 911 call at 1:46 a.m. reporting Danny Allen Burlington, 29, was threatening to kill himself. They arrived to see Burlington standing in the middle of the street with what appeared to be a gun to his head. The weapon turned out to be a replica when police confiscated it later. "You cannot tell the difference unless you're physically holding them," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said.

Police set up a perimeter and evacuated nearby homes.

Budreau said Burlington surrendered just before 4 a.m. Police seized the replica handgun and cited Burlington for disorderly conduct. He was taken to Rogue Regional Medical Center for a mental health evaluation.

Budreau said it was not law enforcement's first run-in with Burlington. Police also responded to an incident in July in the 3000 block of Sheridan Street, where he was threatening suicide with a .22-caliber pistol. Burlington shot himself in the shoulder during the incident and was later charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Court records show he entered a not-guilty plea to the charge Aug. 9 and was awaiting a Sept. 10 pre-trial hearing.

"We certainly hope mental health (services) will be doing the best they can to meet his mental needs," Budreau said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Medford police responded to reports of a suicidal man in the 400 block of Fairmount Way. Police declined to release the man's name, as he had no weapons and no criminal charges were filed against him. Police said they had not dealt with the man before.

Police said the man called his doctor just after 1 p.m. and said he wanted to be shot to death by police. Officers, including a SWAT team in two vehicles, swarmed the area and blocked off sections of Second and Fairmount streets, not far from Jackson Elementary School. The man surrendered without incident at 2 p.m. and also was taken to RRMC for a mental health evaluation.

The incidents highlight the growing number of suicide attempts and suicides in Jackson County. For the first six months of 2012, Medford police have responded to 186 emergency calls reporting suicidal subjects, up nearly 11 percent from the first six months of 2011.

In 2011, police reported a 42 percent increase in suicides and suicide attempts from 2010, jumping from 204 attempts, 32 of which were fatal, to 290, 46 of which were fatal.

"We're doing it more than we've ever done," Budreau said. "It's very concerning for us."

Based on a report released in February, Jackson County's suicide rate of 20 deaths per 100,000 people is 25 percent higher than the state average and nearly double the national average.

Some of the attempts in past years were "suicide by cop," in which a suicidal subject attempts to get shot by police officers during a standoff.

Budreau added there is the potential for additional injuries to police and those nearby during these types of calls, as stray bullets, fired either by the suicidal person or police, can strike others.

"They obviously create a lot of danger to the officers as well as citizens," he said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or email rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

SWAT officers responded to west Medford Wednesday when a man said he wanted to kill himself by being shot by police. - Bob Pennell