Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Raging Incidence of Suicide by Cop

The location is immaterial and the only requirement is that it will be sufficiently newsworthy and populated with people, kids or adults doesn't matter. The intent is to garner the attention of SWAT teams. This will optimize the chances that a sharpshooter or a random police officer will, ultimately and finally, end the life of the perpetrator  It happens more often that we care to consider and we wonder why it happened and if we can help to avoid these tragic incidents in the future

The Internet is littered with articles from many sources regarding the phenomenon known as "suicide by cop" and an article in a medical journal (source below) looked at the subject and found that:

            The term is one used by law enforcement
            A decade-long review of one police department showed 11% were suicide-by-cop incidents
            13% of the deaths were justifiable homicides
            Ages of suicidal individuals ranged from 18-54 and 98% were male
            48% of the weapons used were firearms, 17% replica firearms

Some of the statistics in the article may be dated at this time, but they are still to be carefully evaluated. Considering that these individuals may or may not have anticipated how long they would have to wait for the police to arrive on the scene may also have been a factor.  This speeds up their intent to quickly begin firing and focus the police attention to a specific area, perhaps

The study noted that police were on-scene within 15 minutes and that 70% of the shootings were recorded within 30 minutes of arrival.  The conclusion of the article? These are actual suicide attempts or "successful suicides" as medical professionals call those who actually kill themselves or get others to do it for them as in the case of the police.  

Some authorities dislike the "suicide by cop" distinction because it somehow places a pejorative tinge to the incident. They prefer "law enforcement-forced-assisted suicide." Personally, I would think that the police involved in these actions would bristle at the "assisted" part of this terminology and may not agree with their management. When a police officer is involved in a fatal shooting it is never something they can forget or that will not have some effect on their life in the future. How it will affect them cannot be foreseen and each person will handle it in their own way. 

The statistics are alarming when you consider how many people are at risk in these situations and how many innocent bystanders may lose their lives or be forever marked by these incidents. Going to the mall, to school, to the library or even to a fast food restaurant now takes on the aura of something no longer safe and secure. Our lives become objects of videocams played out after the event for millions of people to see on TV and the Internet. Privacy is forever a fading vestige of the 20th century, as we knew that era. 

The 21st century becomes one of marked vigilance and remaining indoors at night, going shopping quickly and always looking over our shoulders. Tension has replaced calm for a joyful shopping experience and when the holidays come, the danger may increase with the size of the crowds because this is the time of the year when people have a tendency to become depressed. Depressed persons can decide to take action and that action may not be in terms of getting help for them

The decreased availability of mental health services, too, whether in person, via phone hot lines or even on the Internet may not meet the needs of everyone. Who do we miss? There's really no way to know because persons intent on committing suicide don't always give off those classic signals we have been led to believe will make their intentions evident to us. Our laws do not allow involuntary treatment of anyone who may be suspected of planning something disastrous like a fatal police encounter. If we did that, we would be closer to a police state than our democracy wishes. Regrettably, it is only after an incident that we see the need for treatment or signs that were so subtle that they were easily unseen by anyone, even a mental health professional. 

Suicide by cop. Hutson, Yarbrough, Hardaway, Russell, Strote, Canter & Blum. Ann. Emergency Medicine, 1998, Dec: 32(6):665-9