Shift Briefing Series: Police response to suicidal subjects

One of the most difficult and emotional calls law enforcement handles today is responding to armed suicidal subject calls


By David Pearson

The Shift Briefing Series is designed to provide law enforcement officers with short training videos that will help make them smarter, safer and more efficient in daily operations and when responding to critical incidents. The videos address key components of the Top 20 Concepts, a class I created and have presented around the country since 2011. The class addresses 20 foundational concepts in law enforcement that are based in law, policy and ethics, are repeatable and defensible, and assist with critical incident decision-making. Group discussion questions are listed after each video to help solidify the topics and ensure the application is in line with your department’s mission and values. 

This video discusses one of the most difficult and emotional calls law enforcement handles today. It will address if law enforcement should assist on armed suicidal subject calls (SSC), if there is a time to walk away and the legal justification for using force on a non-criminal SSC.

The Safety Priorities, Graham v. Connor (the balance of the governmental interest vs. the persons protection from improper seizure), and the locations where the subject will likely be contacted (open air, vehicles and the home) will be used to answer many questions about SSC.

While not every aspect is covered, this video will help viewers reason through decisions made on these challenging calls.


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

  1. How are the Safety Priorities integrated into your department’s decision-making, policies, tactics and procedures?
  2. Can you explain how the Safety Priorities might shape the tactics you will use to approach a suicidal subject?
  3. What does Graham v. Connor require us to balance against the government’s interest?
  4. How does a suicidal subject’s location influence the balance between governmental interest and the subject’s right to privacy and protection from seizure?
  5. Since a search warrant is unlikely to be issued in the absence of a crime, what are the ways law enforcement can legally justify their entry into a private residence in order to aid a suicidal subject?
  6. Are there times where it is appropriate for law enforcement to disengage from the suicidal subject and leave the scene?
  7. If law enforcement leaves the scene, what should they do next to help ensure the innocent public is safe?

Next Shift Briefing: How to carry a downed officer or hurt citizen


About the author

David Pearson is a lieutenant with Fort Collins Police Services in Fort Collins, Colorado. He has been a police officer since 1990 and held several assignments as a sergeant and lieutenant. He has been a law enforcement instructor since 1996 and has taught a variety of topics to include officer safety, SWAT tactics, active shooter and incident command.

Since 2005, David has been an instructor for the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and has taught classes on several disciplines. David’s focus has been in less lethal technology and tactics and he is the main instructor for the NTOA’s Less Lethal Instructor course. David has certified over 1,000 instructors in the United States and Canada in the less lethal course. Since 2013, he has served in the role of Less Lethal Section Chair for the NTOA.

In 2017, David started his company, Rocky Mountain Blue Line Consulting, LLC, and provides expert witness assistance and consulting. David has presented at the annual conferences for APCO, NSA, IACP, California Chiefs, Utah Chief’s and Utah Sheriff’s Association.

David is a two-time Medal of Valor recipient for his actions on patrol and SWAT. He also earned a Medal of Merit for his life-saving efforts during a major flood. He holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership.

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