Police and Suicide By Cop Essay

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Suicide by cop is a term coined by law enforcement to describe an event when a subject intentionally provokes a police officer (i.e., a cop) to use deadly force for the purpose of causing the subject’s own death. In other words, suicide by cop involves a person whose method of choice for suicide is the officer’s use of deadly force.

Recent studies have shown that between 10% and 50% of police shootings appear to be suicide by cop. The range in estimates may reflect the lack of uniformity in defining suicide by cop, as well as differences in measurement. Suicide by cop is predominantly accomplished by men.

By law, police officers may use deadly force against persons to protect themselves or others from attacks that pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury and to make an arrest of violent felony suspects who attempt to flee apprehension. It is common knowledge that the police carry firearms and are trained and ready to use them to cause death if justified. Thus, a suicidal individual may see a police officer as representing an opportunity to die, if only the officer is sufficiently provoked to use deadly force. Further, police officers are relatively accessible as they are expected to respond to citizen calls.

In suicide by cop, then, a subject intentionally places him or herself in a situation in which the police officer feels justified in using deadly force. The officer may not be aware that the subject’s intention is suicide. The subject may threaten the officer or others without admitting that he or she desires his or her own death. Because of this, a death resulting from an officer shooting may be classified as suicide by cop only after a retrospective review of the events and of the subject’s actions. In other cases, the person may be clear on his or her suicidal intent. The subject may openly invite or demand that the officer shoot him or her, often accompanied by physical provoking actions such as waving around what appears to be a weapon or pointing an apparent weapon directly at the officer or another person. Holding someone hostage or barricading oneself while claiming to have a weapon are also methods of trying to attract police gunfire in suicide by cop.

As with many suicides, suicide by cop may be premeditated, or it may be an impulsive action. A suicidal subject may spontaneously take action when confronted by police, often when the police are called to a domestic disturbance or a fight and the subject is already under heightened stress. Incidents of suicide by cop are also related to drug and alcohol abuse and to mental health issues.


  1. Kennedy, D. B., Homant, R. J., & Hupp, R. T. (1998, August). Suicide by cop. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 67(8), 21–27. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e3e9/002efa7203bf48b7e1289765e38e4d4a04d3.pdf
  2. Klinger, D. A. (2001). Suicidal intent in victim-precipitated homicide: Insights from the study of “suicide by cop.” Homicide Studies, 5, 206–226.
  3. Parent, R. B., & Verdun-Jones, S. (1998). Victim precipitated homicide: Police use of deadly force in British Columbia. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 21, 432–448.

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