Could Crisis Intervention Teams Curb Incidents of Suicide by Cop?

The numbers regarding suicide by cop are shocking.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Kris Mohandie published a study of officer-involved shootings that occurred between 1998 and 2006 in the Journal of Forensic Science.  Mohandie determined that of 707 officer involved shooting incidents, 36 percent resulted from suicide by cop situations.  More problematic is that 97% of these encounters ended in the death of the subject.  These situations are dangerous for the responding police officer and the general public.

Mohandie’s research and statistics, while widely known and reported by media outlets, has been criticized as grouping the circumstances of “suicide by cop” too broadly thereby skewing the statistics.  “If you get a true suicide by cop, there is no negotiating with them,” says Detective Sgt. Don Hull, who has been a hostage negotiator with the Oklahoma City Police Department for more than 20 years. “I get a gut feeling and realize, ‘This guy is going to make us shoot him.’” In his two decades in law enforcement, Hull says he’s seen fewer than five “true” suicides by cop.

Suicide by cop evolves in one of two ways.  The first scenario typically in involves a fleeing subject who is cornered and has nothing to lose.  They encounter the police and go out in a hail of gunfire.  The second scenario involves a person that is disturbed in one manner or another and outwardly displays severe anxiety or emotional distress brought on by some crisis or mental illness.

More often than not, if a disturbed or mentally ill person exhibits signs of of emotional distress, the police are usually the first responders to encounter the subject.

A dead subject and grieving family are not the only victims in suicide by cop scenarios.  Officers involved in these shootings can experience PTSD.

There are few circumstances more terrifying for a police officer than facing a person with nothing to lose.  However, responding to subjects that intend to harm themselves or others should raise red flags as to whether the subject is suffering from a severe mental health problem.  In the event that a subject is mentally ill, or exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, departments have implemented crisis intervention teams (or CIT) to bring a more humane and professional atmosphere to handling a mental health crisis.

Only 10 percent of the nation’s approximately 15,000 police departments offer crisis intervention programs, and according to Ron Honberg, the legal adviser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a tragic consequence is usually necessary for the public to investigate the available alternatives.

Understanding how to respond to these situations serves the best interest of everyone involved.  The public should prioritize the safety of law enforcement officers while utilizing CIT teams and officers trained in mental illness to diffuse potentially deadly outcomes.

If you have questions about “suicide by cop” or crisis intervention teams, call the personal injury attorneys in Tulsa at Bryan and Terrill, 918-935-2777.