When Kevin Briggs joined the California Highway Patrol in the early 1990s, he never thought that he would become the “Guardian of The Golden Gate Bridge.” When Kevin had gotten out the military, he began working as a guard for the San Quentin State Prison. But eventually, he decided that he might be a better fit as a highway patrolman and that’s where our story begins.
Assuming that he would be handling traffic violations and kicking trespassers off of the bridge, he felt that he was prepared for the work to come. Soon enough, Kevin was made aware that the Golden Gate Bridge, which was built in 1937, was infamously known as a spot for people to end their lives. In fact, ever since its construction, more than 1500 people have jumped to their deaths.
“I had no training before I went out there – it was just a beat I was working,” said Kevin. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t take too long for Kevin to realize just how grave the situation on the bridge was. Shortly after starting his new job, Kevin met his first suicidal woman, but because he wasn’t trained, he had no clue how to properly help her.
“I went into what I call ‘cop mode,” recalled Kevin. At the time, he had no clue what she was planning and he told her that she was going to fall if she wasn’t careful. “I had no idea that this thing was going on – that she was contemplating suicide,” said Kevin.
“I did about everything wrong that you could,” Briggs said. “In the back of my mind, I was thinking, ‘Am I responsible if she does jump? What happens here? I had no training in this. This is a really bad scene.’…I was afraid, I didn’t know how to handle that situation.”
After that first incident, Kevin met even more suicidal people on the bridge. “There were four to six cases of suicidal folks on the bridge each and every month,” he explained. Kevin had no clue how to handle the situation, but he did the best that he could.
“I think my approach right from the start was wrong. Just to walk right up to those folks and start talking with them. I would ask people when they came back over, if they wouldn’t mind me asking, ‘What did I say that was good and what did I say, what actions, were poor.”
“They would always tell me. Things that did not go well were, ‘I understand.’ That makes people angry. Because you don’t understand, and I totally get that now. I do not understand what is going on with that person. That is a very poor thing to say.”
“As cops, we run in there and try to handle the situation, and with these folks who are contemplating suicide, you can’t do that. You have to take a step back and be a lot more flexible and patient. It’s a whole different realm of law enforcement,” explained Kevin.
“Now what I do is I stand back and I’ll just introduce myself. I’ll say ‘Hi I’m Kevin.’” Kevin explained. “Or ‘I’m Kevin with the Highway Patrol, is it okay, is it alright if I come up and speak with you for a bit?’ I want to get their permission and empower them.”
“What I believe, personally, they want to hear is, ‘Yeah, it is tough’. I try to explain to them, wow that sounds really tough. And normalize their situation. That’s a real big one, is to try to normalize their situation. You know, ‘Wow, what you’re going through is a whole lot of stuff and that’d be tough on anybody.’”
Throughout those years, he saved the lives of more than 200 people, giving him the name the “Golden Gate Guardian.” In 2013, Kevin retired from the California Highway Patrol to work entirely in suicide prevention. “It takes a lot of courage to be over that rail. It takes a lot of courage. But it also takes a lot of courage to come back and face the reality that is with them right now. But there is a brighter side to this, and it can happen, and it might take a long time and a lot of work. But life is beautiful and, you know, it is worth living.”