Suicide by Cop

I recently saw a news item over at on the apparently growing incidents of Suicide by Cop (SBC). SBC refers to persons who intentionally act in a dangerous manner in an attempt to be killed by police. A new article that appears in the Journal of Forensic Sciences estimated, this tragedy occurred 36% of the time in a sample of over 700 police shootings. The findings confirm the growing incidence of this method of suicide—as SBC cases are more likely to result in the death or injury of the subjects half of the time.

The 36% only includes cases that were established as SBC so it is assumed that other cases were motivated by similar feelings, yet not enough evidence was present for researchers to classify the cases as victim perpetrated suicides.

Interestingly, psychologist Dr. Kevin Keough had this to say about the forgotten victims of SBC:

This tragedy is one of the most frustrating and disturbing experiences a police officer can face. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is on the rise. Experts continue to search for the most appropriate term to describe this type of incident. The contenders include "police assisted suicide," "suicide by cop," "victim precipitated homicide," and "victim precipitated suicide."

The bottom line is that the victim(s) in these incidents is the officer(s). The person responsible for the death is the perpetrator, not the police officer(s). Unfortunately, the media like to second guess every action taken by police officers.

Not long ago, there was a "by the book" use of lethal force in a "perpetrator victimizes police officer-suicide type" (my taxonomy would classify each and every way police officers are victimized by perpetrators): The local newspaper calls a psychologist on the west coast to see what the officers could have done differently. According to the psychologist 3,000 miles away:

"They should have talked to him in a soothing tone and made him feel safe." Then psychologists wonder why police officers are wary of mental health types.

By any name, this type of incident is traumatic. It is more traumatic when multiple departments are involved and political issues become more important ("CYA") than responding to the victimized police officers. It is critical that an officer receives immediate and ongoing peer support. A critical incident debriefing should be standard operating procedure.

It is important to know that 85% of police officers experience short term--but serious--emotional fallout from these incidents. One-third of all officers will experience moderate symptoms over several months, while approximately 5% of police officers will experience protracted serious symptoms. Police officers need immediate and ongoing support and people to listen.

As Dr. Keough describes, officers are, for the most part, not considered victims in SBC. With the current economic situation, unfortunately, I only expect to see an increase in this type of tragedy.


copswife said...

Damn straight! They didn't wake up that day, thinking, I wanna shoot somebody.

J. J. in Phila said...

Excellent post.

There is no way that that police officer can do a Vulcan mind meld with every person pointing a gun at him and determine what that person really wants.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks. I still can't get over that the researchers found more than 1/3 of the police shootings examined were suicide by cop. The poor economy will only increase these incidents and cause more officers to be confronted with suicidal persons requesting instant death.