Suicide By Cop

Suicide by Cop

He’s at a point in his life when he wants to end it all, and he’ll do what it takes to reach that goal.

Unfortunately, achieving that objective sometimes involves shooting at a cop, hoping the officer will do as he’s trained and return fire. And he’s right. Shoot at a cop and you’ll quickly find a volley of lead headed your way.

But when the suspect exhibits signs that he may be trying to use the officer as a means of suicide, well, that could change the ballgame. It shouldn’t, but sometimes it does. Why? Because this is a person who needs help, and harming a person in need goes against everything a cop stands for and tries to accomplish. After all, isn’t it a cop’s job to keep everyone safe, no matter what?

Police officers are sort of like mother hens in uniform. They try to keep everyone out of harm’s way and, contrary to a lot of people’s belief, only as a last resort do they use force of any kind.

When someone is hurting, officers are pre-wired to render aid. When someone needs help, they provide it. When a life is in danger, they save it. That’s what they do. Therefore, when the suicidal individual confronts a police officer it’s possible the officer could let down his defensive guard, feeling compassion for the troubled person.

Cops are trained to defend themselves, and others, at all costs, and they should. And they should be hyper-alert when a distraught suspect exhibits one or more of the following signs. Remember, if the officer hesitates to shoot when necessary, that second of inaction may very well be the last thing he ever does. A dead hero will not be in attendance when the chief presents a posthumous commendation to his next of kin.

suicide by cop

Signs/indicators that a person is planning a suicide by cop.

– He’s just killed a close family member – a wife, his child, or even a parent.

– The suspect has supplied a list of demands to the police and none of those plans include a means of escape.

– Very rapid breathing. Hyperventilating.

– Something has happened recently that the suspect feels is life-altering—someone close to them has died, they’ve been arrested and face a lengthy prison sentence, loss of job, divorce or spouse is cheating on him, money troubles, foreclosure, etc.

– Refusal to obey any commands.

– Rocking back and forth. Beating a fist on a table or other surface. Or any other movement in a repetitive, cadence-like tempo. The rhythmic movements often increase in speed and intensity.

– Just before encountering officers, the suspect gives away everything that’s important to him (mementos/keepsakes and other property, for example).

– He says things like, “You’ll never take me alive.” “When I die everyone will remember it.”

– Suspect is constantly, frantically, and rapidly looking around, searching his surroundings.

– He expresses a desire to die and demands that the officers kill him.

– He may reveal that he has a terminal illness.

Of course, there are times when a suicidal suspect does back down and allow himself to be taken into custody. And the reversal or diminished signs from above are indicators that he has changed his mind about dying. BUT, at no time should the officer let down his guard. AND, at no time should the officer hesitate to do what must be done at the proper time.

So I ask, could you make the call? If so, would it be the right call?

Writers’ Police Academy recruits will be faced with similar, live-action scenarios during their shoot/don’t shoot training exercises. Will they make the right decisions? This session is intense!


Writers' Police Academy


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7 replies
  1. SZ
    SZ says:

    Time permitting, if he had a gun, I would try to shoot his shooting arm, or leg so he cant run. Hard to do when everything is happening so fast and you are trained to shoot in the center

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Jenny – Lee has an in-born gift for writing this sort of thing. He’s the see-all, know-all writer.

    GunDiva – FATS is exciting, huh!

    Pat – Yes, it is a tough topic, especially when you’ve been there.

    Chris – Andy would simply talk the guy down and then take him to the diner for a pounded steak dinner and a milkshake.

  3. Chris
    Chris says:

    I echo Pat’s comments. I know there’s no way I could handle all the stresses a LEO must confront today. Life today isn’t quite as simple as it was back in the days of Sheriff Andy Taylor and Mayberry.

  4. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    I had a suicide by cop scenario at FATS last year. I knew the minute I “walked” into the room that it was going to be bad. It’s crazy, I knew he was going to shoot himself, but I also knew that he wanted me to shoot him. What do you do in a situation like that? Either way, he was going to get what he wanted (death), the only thing yet to be decided was whose bullet was going to do the killing.

    I chose not to shoot and he ended up swallowing his barrel. That scenario has stuck with me ever since.

  5. Jenny Milchman
    Jenny Milchman says:

    Very interesting post, Lee. Interestingly, some of these signs line up with what Lee Child wrote about a terrorist exhibiting just before an attack–which, of course, makes sense.

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