In recent years, viral videos of police in action haven’t always shown them at their best. From wanton shootings and beatings to seemingly unnecessary body slams, the “bad apples” have tended to dominate the news.
But there are also plenty of images of police performing their jobs bravely, doing exactly what they’re supposed to do, protect and serve.
Saturday night, a dashcam captured Chattanooga Police Officer Steven Meadow saving a woman’s life.
Built in 1917, the historic Market Street Bridge crosses the Tennessee River, carrying four lanes of traffic from downtown Chattanooga to the city’s north side. It’s on that drawbridge that Officer Meador found a woman sitting on the bridge’s concrete guardrail, threatening to jump into the water below in an attempt to end her own life.
A dashcam caught it all.
“A caller called in and said there was a woman standing on the edge of the Market Street Bridge,” Officer Meador said in a phone interview with The Washington Post early Monday morning.
It was around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night, and Meador knew those four lanes would be full of cars traveling to and from downtown Chattanooga. He was four blocks away when he received the call. He immediately floored the gas pedal, speeding to the bridge and arriving there in about 15 seconds.
There, he found the woman, whose name has not been released, sitting on a roughly four-foot high rail. A couple that had been pushing a stroller down the sidewalk was trying to speak to her and convince her to come down from the ledge, to no avail.
“If she rolled to the right, she would have fallen into the water,” Meador said. “If she rolled to the left, she would have fallen into the road.”
Given that the bridge looms more than 100 feet off the water, “If she jumped, she would have been killed.”
Once he arrived at the bridge, Meador saw what he said is a red flag. The woman’s driver’s license had been removed from her wallet. Now it rested face-up on the sidewalk, next to the discarded wallet. Meador said people who commit suicide by jumping from the bridge often leave behind some form of identification.
“We’ve had jumpers before, and a lot of times they’ll do that,” he said. “Usually just to let us or whoever finds them know that this (is) where [they were]. Kind of like a landmark.”
Immediately, he tried to shut down all four lanes of traffic while engaging her in conversation. Both proved difficult. Traffic stopped where it was, meaning the bridge wasn’t clear. And the woman wasn’t taking to normal conversation.
“The only thing that I’m thinking is, ‘I cannot let this lady jump,'” Meador said. “I knew, most of the time, you can engage in conversation and de-escalate the situation, but she wasn’t having any of it.”
Instead, she kept repeating, “I don’t want to be here.”
When he asked for her name, she replied, “None of your business.”
When he asked if she would like a cigarette, she replied, “I already have one, thank you.”
Then, she stood up.
“I started to panic,” Meador said.
Before turning around, the woman said, “I’m gonna go now.”
As she stared out over the dark river, she said, “I’m done.”
Meador was between the first and second lane of the southbound lane, about 20 feet away, when she started crying. He ran up behind her, the whole time hoping beyond hope that he’d make it in time. He had been in “hairy situations” before, but he had never “had someone right in front me with the possibility of jumping.”
When he reached her, he grabbed the back of her blue jeans and her shirt, and fell back, pulling her from the ledge. She suffered slight abrasions on her shoulder and cheek, but she was on the ground, not in the river.
She wasn’t arrested but immediately sent to the hospital for medical treatment. Later that night, Meador visited her, just to check on her.
“She was still upset, but I don’t think she meant it. I think she was just in a really bad state,” Meador said. “Personally, I’ve lost people to suicide before, and I can’t imagine the heavy weight of what would make someone make that decision.”
But he does understand the implications of the situation. Even days later, he’s still haunted by the “what if’s.”
“What if she’d jumped? What if I didn’t get there in time?” Meador said. “I’d have to live with that forever.”
A Facebook user named McKenzie Taylor wrote, “Thank you for saving my Mother’s life,” on the official Chattanooga Police Department Facebook post about the incident.
“I had no idea she was on the bridge and I was close by,” Taylor wrote in a second post. “I wouldn’t know what to do without her. Thank you so so much. She’s doing fine.”
Taylor told The Washington Post via Facebook message that the woman is her mother, and her name is Tawnesha.
“Mom and me then got into a really heated argument, and I took off. Hurtful things were said,” Taylor wrote to The Post.
She said nothing like this has ever happened before, but she was grateful to Officer Meador.
“People try to make officers out to be terrible, but Officer Meador saved my mother’s life and I can’t thank him enough,” Taylor wrote.
Many others offered accolades and congratulations on Facebook.
“You are a true hero,” wrote one user. “So proud of you Steven, and the career that you have chosen,” wrote another.
One user seemed particularly inspired by the events, writing, “This is why I want to go into this career field. Moments like this.”
This certainly isn’t the first time a dashcam has captured video of police fulfilling the often difficult duties of their positions. Sometimes, they’ve even filmed officers going above and beyond the call of duty.
Last January, for example, two New Jersey state troopers responded to a call reporting that a woman was in the backseat of her car on the side of a highway with her husband. She was having a baby. In the video, the two officers can be heard yelling encouragement and instructions.
“One, two, three, push!” one yells, while the other adds, “There you go. Keep going. Keep going!”
A moment later, they both shout joyfully, “It’s a girl!”
One D.C. police officer was filmed when she defused a conflict that could have turned violent by challenging a teen to a dance-off. After officers broke up a fight, a female officer wanted the remaining crowd to disperse. She had an idea in mind, telling 17-year-old Aaliyah Taylor that they could have a dance-off, and if the officer won, then Taylor would vacate the area. If Taylor won, she could stay.
The Post called it “positive community policing at a time when national attention is focused on discriminatory and abusive police tactics.”
“Instead of us fighting, she tried to turn it around and make it something fun,” Taylor told The Post. “I never expected cops to be that cool. There are some good cops.”
When The Post contacted the dancing officer, she asked to remain unidentified because, “this is what we do every day.”
It’s reminiscent of a video, which shows Officer Bobby White of the Gainesville Police Department joining a pick-up game with a group of kids after being called to the game for a noise complaint.
“Obviously, I have no problem with you playing basketball on the street,” he said in the video. “If you can, try not to be too loud, you know what I mean? But have fun. I’d rather see you do this than be out there causing trouble.”
As he walked away, he told the group he would try to bring more officers to “get a game going.”
He fulfilled that promise, not by bringing more officers but by swinging by with NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, better known as simply Shaq.
Last December, a dashcam in York, Penn., captured York Township Volunteer Fire Chief Nate Tracey dragging a man out of a car that’s engulfed in flames.
Similarly, last February, a bodycam filmed a Florida deputy pulling a man from another burning vehicle.
Still, some opponents of dashcams and bodycams have pushed against the technology.
Last October, former NYPD officer and prosecutor who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Eugene O’Donnell told The Post’s Michael E. Miller that body cameras may make the country more dangerous because police won’t be as inclined to engage in situations that could turn violent.
“There is going to be a lot less engagement because every cop in America now has to realize that any kind of interaction with anybody is monumentally significant and could end up in a bad way with them being disciplined or terminated or criminalized or demonized,” O’Donnell said.
Last December, DNA Info reported that 80 percent of Chicago Police Department’s 850 dashcams don’t record audio either due to “operator error” or “intentional destruction,” while 12 percent of the dashcam’s video didn’t work for the same two reasons.
The debate continues to rage over the usage of video in policing America’s police, but one thing is certain. This weekend on Facebook, Chattanooga residents seemed pleased to have witnessed Officer Meador saving a woman’s life.
“Thank you officer for doing your difficult job,” one user wrote on the post.