Suicide by cop
Suicide by cop or suicide by police is a suicide method in which a suicidal individual deliberately behaves in a threatening manner, with intent to provoke a lethal response from a public safety or law enforcement officer.
There are two broad categories of "suicide by cop". The first is when someone has committed a crime and is being pursued by the police and decides that they would rather die than be arrested. These people may not otherwise be suicidal but may simply decide that life is not worth living if they are incarcerated and thus will provoke police to kill them. The second version involves people who are already contemplating suicide and who decide that provoking law enforcement into killing them is the best way to act on their desires. These individuals may commit a crime with the specific intention of provoking a law enforcement response.
The idea of committing suicide in this manner is based on trained procedures of law enforcement officers, specifically the policy on the use of deadly force. In jurisdictions where officials are readily capable of deadly force (often by being equipped with firearms), there are usually set circumstances where they will predictably use deadly force against a threat to themselves or others. This form of suicide functions by exploiting this trained reaction. The most common scenario is pointing a firearm at a police officer or an innocent person, which would be expected to provoke an officer to fire on them. However, many variants exist; for example, attacking with a knife or other hand weapon, trying to run an officer or other person over with a car, or trying to trigger a (real or presumed) explosive device.
This concept hinges on the person's state of mind, and their desire to end their own life, which can be difficult to determine post mortem. Some cases are obvious, such as pointing an unloaded or non-functioning gun (such as a toy gun, air gun, airsoft gun or starter's pistol) at officers, or the presence of a suicide note. Some suspects brazenly announce their intention to die before they act. However, many cases can be more difficult to determine, as some suspects with the desire to die will actually fire live ammunition and even kill people before being killed themselves. Many law enforcement training programs have added sections to specifically address handling these situations if officers suspect that the subject is attempting to goad them into using lethal force.
Many modern cases that pre-date the formal recognition of the phenomenon have been identified or speculated by historians as matching the pattern now known as suicide by cop. According to authors Mark Lindsay and David Lester, Houston McCoy, one of the two Austin Police Department officers who shot and killed Charles Whitman, the "Texas Tower Sniper", believed that Whitman could have shot him and fellow officer Ramiro Martinez, but "he was waiting for them, and wanted to be shot." The 1976 death of Mal Evans, road manager, assistant, and a friend of The Beatles, who aimed an air gun at police and refused to put it down, was theorized as a possible example of this phenomenon. Some historians believe that Giuseppe Zangara, the man who killed Chicago mayor Anton Cermak in a possible attempt to assassinate then President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, might have been attempting suicide by police.
Recognition and research
The phenomenon has been described in news accounts from 1981, and scientific journals since 1985. The phrase has appeared in news headlines since at least 1987. It did not become common until the early 2000s. The phrase seems to have originated in the United States, but has also appeared in the UK, where a jury first determined someone committed suicide by cop in 2003.
Some of the first research into suicide by cop was completed by Sgt. Rick Parent of the Delta Police Department. Parent's research of 843 police shootings determined that about 50% were victim precipitated homicide. Police defined victim precipitated homicide as "an incident in which an individual bent on self-destruction, engages in life threatening and criminal behavior to force law enforcement officers to kill them."
The first formally labeled "Suicide by Cop" case in English legal history was a judgment made by the Reverend Dr. William Dolman while serving as a London coroner between 1993 and 2007. It set a legal precedent and the judgment, as a cause of death, has been a part of English law since.
Profile of suicide by cop subjects from the American Association of Suicidology (2014):
- 95% were male, 5% female
- Mean age: 35 for men, 40 for women
- 41% men were Caucasian, 26% Hispanic and 16% African American
- 50% women were Caucasian, 25% Hispanic
- 37% of men, 42% of women were single
- 29% of men, 50% of women had children
- 54% of men were unemployed
- 29% of men did not have housing
- 62% of men, 100% of women had confirmed or probable mental health history
- 80% of men were armed – of these 60% possessed a firearm, (86% loaded), 26% possessed knives
- 100% of women were armed – 50% had a firearm, (33% loaded), 50% had a knife
- 19% feigned or simulated weapon possession
- 87% of individuals made suicidal communications prior to and/or during the incident
- 36% were under the influence of alcohol.
- The Aramoana massacre, a spree shooting that occurred on 13 November 1990 in New Zealand. Police shot the suspect dead as he came out of a house firing from the hip and screaming "Kill me!"
- In December 2008, 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy was shot and killed by three Victoria Police officers after he threatened them with two large knives and ordered them to shoot him.
- Myron May, a 31-year-old man believing he was a victim of government covert harassment on the line of MKUltra and COINTELPRO cold war clandestine US government programs, committed suicide by cop on 20 November 2014 after recording his intentions on tape.
- On 4 January 2015 a 32-year-old San Francisco man, Matthew Hoffman, staged a standoff with police in the parking lot of an SFPD station. When he brandished the gun, two officers shot him a total of three times. He left a message for the officers in his cell phone “You did nothing wrong,” Hoffman’s note said, “You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself … I provoked you. I threatened your life as well as the lives of those around me.”
- In June 2015, 21-year-old Trepierre Hummons, a known gangster with a history of weapons violations, posted his intent to commit suicide by cop on Facebook on the same day that a sex offense had been reported against him. He called 9-1-1 and reported he'd seen a man acting erratically with a gun. He then shot the responding officer multiple times, mortally wounding him. The next officer to arrive on the scene shot Hummons. Both Hummons and the wounded policeman later died in the hospital.
- Anton Lundin Pettersson, the perpetrator of the October 2015 Trollhättan school attack in Sweden, wrote a message to an online friend an hour before the attack, where he says that he expected to be dead within one or two hours, that he hated himself and that "I hope those fucking cops aim straight, because I really don't want to survive the commotion". Pettersson had a history of mental illness, and a book about the attack with interviews of many people around him states that "during the period before the attack, he wavered between several options; to seek professional help, to kill himself 'normally' or to attack people around him to get killed".
- On 28 May 2017, a man in Mississippi suspected of murdering seven of his family members and a police officer told a journalist that by shooting towards police, "Suicide by cop was my intention. I ain't fit to live. Not after what I've done."
- Stincelli, Rebecca A. (2004). Suicide by police: victims from both sides of the badge. Folsom, Calif: Interviews & Interrogations Institute. ISBN 0-9749987-0-2.
- Pinizzotto, Anthony J.; Davis, Edward F.; Miller III, Charles E. (February 2005). "Suicide by Cop." FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. 74 (2):8-20
- Mark Lindsay, David Lester (2004). Suicide by cop: committing suicide by provoking police to shoot you. Baywood Publishing Company. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-89503-290-4. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
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- "Giuseppe Zangara". Executedtoday.com. 22 March 1933.
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- CBC News, "Suicide by cop, a growing phenomenon?". 27 February 2013. For example: "Apparent Suicide By Cop on LIRR," Newsday, 11 April 1987.
- Allison, Rebecca (10 May 2003). "UK's first 'suicide by cop' ruling". The Guardian.
- Parent, Richard 2004. "Aspects of Police Use of Deadly Force In North America - The Phenomenon of Victim-Precipitated Homicide," Ph.D. thesis, Simon Fraser University.
- "Suicide by cop" coroner retires Archived 2009-01-25 at the Wayback Machine, a brief bio of Dolman, December 2007.
- "Facts & Statistics American Association of Suicidology". American Association of Suicidology. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
- "World Notes NEW ZEALAND". Time. 24 June 2001.
- "Tyler Cassidy's death 'suicide by cop', coroner told". CourierMail. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
- McPHATE, Mike (10 June 2016). "United States of Paranoia: They See Gangs of Stalkers". The New York Times.
- "The Untold Motives behind Suicide-by-Cop | Officer.com". Officer.com. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
- Brumfield, Ben (21 June 2015). "Police: Cincinnati man calls 911 on self, kills responding officer". CNN. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
- Röstlund, Lisa (27 September 2017). "Mördarens sista meddelande: "Jag fucking hatar mig själv"". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). Retrieved 14 September 2018.
- "Exclusive: Suspect confesses to C-L reporter; 8 dead, including deputy". The Clarion Ledger.
- Lindsay, M.; Lester, D. (2004). Suicide by Cop: Committing Suicide by Provoking Police to Shoot You. Amityville, NY: Baywood. ISBN 0-89503-290-2.
- Mohandie, K.; Meloy, J. R.; Collins, P. I. (2009). "Suicide by Cop Among Officer-Involved Shooting Cases". Journal of Forensic Sciences. 54 (2): 456–462. doi:10.1111/j.1556-4029.2008.00981.x.