He vowed not to be taken alive. “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die,” Lamar Smith shouted during a nine-hour standoff Jan. 8 at a Pittsburgh-area apartment building, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Smith, 29, died after a sharpshooter’s bullet struck him in the chest as he moved toward SWAT officers with two guns in his hands. Said Kris Mohandie, a police and forensic psychologist based in Pasadena, Ca.: “He’s creating the end of his story.”
It also has become an increasingly common way of ending one’s life, according to a study by Mohandie published this month in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. Of 707 officer-involved shootings in North America from 1998 to 2006, 256 cases, or 36 percent, involved people who were trying to be killed by police.
Investigators have become better at recognizing suicide-by-cop situations, taking note of a person’s past suicidal behavior, psychological history, substance abuse patterns, and relationship problems before they encounter police. The study found that 95 percent of the people involved were male and 80 percent were armed during the incidents, the majority of them with guns. Ninety percent took some form of aggressive action against police, and 51 percent were killed during the confrontations. The vast majority of the incidents were unplanned, but most involved some type of “suicidal communications.” Slightly more than 60 percent of the people involved had a history of mental health problems. Mohandie said the study demonstrates the critical importance of enhanced training for officers on how to deal with someone who is contemplating suicide. It also shows that, in some instances, there is a limit to what law enforcement can do.