“Suicide by Cop” is one of the most frustrating and disturbing experiences a police officer can face. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is on the rise. Experts continue to search for the most appropriate term to describe this type of incident. The contenders include “police assisted suicide,” “suicide by cop,” “victim precipitated homicide,” and “victim precipitated suicide,” or in my taxonomy “perpetrator victimizes police officer(s)-suicide type”.
By any name, this type of incident is traumatic. It is more traumatic when multiple departments are involved and political issues (CYA) become more important than responding to the victimized police officers. The bottom line is that the victim(s) in these incidents is the officer(s). The person responsible for the death is the perpetrator, not the police officer(s). Unfortunately, the media find it virtually impossible to identify police officers as victims.
It is important to know that 85% of police officers experience short term–but serious–emotional fallout from these incidents. One-third of all officers will experience moderate symptoms over several months, while approximately 5% of police officers will experience protracted serious symptoms.
Curiously, it is a national pass-time to second guess all actions taken by police officers leading to some pretty crazy stuff. For example, not long ago, there was a “by the book” use of lethal force in a “suicide by cop”. The local newspaper called a psychologist on the west coast to see what the officers “should have done differently”. According to the psychologist 3,000 miles away: “They should have talked to him in a soothing tone and made him feel safe.” Well gee…
Then psychologists wonder why police officers are wary of mental health types.
It is essential that an officer receives immediate and ongoing peer support. A critical incident debriefing should be standard operating procedure—which does not mean a mental health professional is best suited to conduct a debriefing.
Police officers need immediate and ongoing support and people to listen. The most common emotion is anger toward the dead perpetrator. It is invaluable for police officers to read about and discuss the experiences of other officers involved in similar situations.