Arresting suicide by cop

Suicide by cop‘ is a fairly recent concept that has come to light after cases of people who seemingly provoked police shootings in an attempt to end their own lives.

Miller-McCune magazine has an excellent article on how the police are increasingly recognising this as a problem and are working towards diverting these situations to avoid a lethal outcome.

Although some cases are clear-cut, exact figures are hard to come by, not least because it often involves inferring the intentions of someone who has just been killed.

While some say the problem is vastly under-recognised, others are concerned that it could be used as an excuse for questionable shootings by saying the subject was suicidal.

However, the Miller-McCune article takes a comprehensive look at what we know about ‘suicide by cop’ and how innovative new programmes are being put-in-place to try and pick up cases and divert them to mental health services.

Most people who have studied the phenomenon will tell you that, typically, suicide-by-cop scenarios fall into two categories: the “fleeing felon” who tries to escape police and, once cornered, decides he’s going to go out in a blaze of glory; and the “emotionally disturbed person,” who, like Seth, is looking for a way out of the pain of either mental illness or some kind of life failure.

The police encounter “emotionally disturbed persons” so regularly that, in cop lingo, they are called “EDPs.” Whether it’s a domestic call (a man with a history of depression has become violent because his ex won’t take him back), a workplace incident (an employee locks herself in a bathroom with a letter opener after being let go), or a schizophrenic homeless man screaming obscenities at shoppers at the local Dollar Store, police are often the first responders to problems involving our nation’s mentally ill. Situations involving the emotionally disturbed are volatile and can quickly spiral out of control, but most American police officers receive little specialized training on dealing with them.

The author of the piece, crime journalist Julia Dahl, and the mother of a man who tried to kill himself by provoking the police were interviewed recently on NPR Radio’s Here and Now.

Unfortunately, I’m on a low-bandwidth 1990s-style internet connection so can’t listen to it very easily, although it looks like a good complement to the article.

Link to Miller-McCune article ‘How to Stop Suicide by Cop’.
Link to ‘suicide by cop’ interview on NPR radio.

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