Coping with the aftermath of a suicide by cop

Whether an SBC incident arises spontaneously out of the anger and panic of the subject, or it is pre-planned, the officer involved has to deal with the aftermath

The term, suicide-by-cop (SBC) was first coined by police officer and psychologist Karl Harris in 1983 to refer to a special kind of officer-involved shooting (OIS) scenario, where a subject deliberately provokes police into killing him, usually by making an actual or simulated threatening gesture at them with a firearm or other weapon. It has been estimated that approximately 10 percent of the 600 police shootings a year in the United States are SBC incidents, and most involve uniformed officers who are on duty at the time of the shooting.

The typical SBC subject is a white male in his mid-20s with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. He has probably had prior contact with the law but usually for minor offenses, although this may have given him some familiarity with how police operate in response to threats. A psychiatric history is common, usually a serious psychotic or mood disorder, and almost half of subjects have made previous suicide attempts. The particular crisis episode usually originates with the rupture of some important family, employment, or other relationship, which leads to feelings of hopelessness, anger, and despair. The two most common scenarios involve an armed robbery or a domestic disturbance call, although an increasing number of workplace and school violence scenarios may include a SBC action. In almost half the cases, the crisis is fueled by alcohol intoxication, and in two-thirds of cases, the subject has taken hostages.

Some SBC incidents arise spontaneously out of the anger and panic of these situations, while others appear to be planned, as evidenced by the presence of a suicide note in nearly a third of cases. Motivations for SBC include:

1.) noble warrior: wanting to end one’s life in a blaze of glory that will seem heroic, not cowardly
2.) religious compunction: suicide is a sin, so if someone else kills the subject, maybe he can still go to Heaven
3) dollars and cents: the subject may want to provide for loved ones, and thereby not violate a life insurance policy that has an exclusion for suicide
4) quick and painless: many other forms of suicide (pills, poisons, artery-slitting, ledge-jumping, vehicle crashes) are not foolproof — the subject could linger in agony before dying, or be left alive as a helpless cripple. Few methods appear as lethally effective as being instantly felled by a hail of bullets fired from multiple police weapons.

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