S.F. Police Killing Brings New Attention To “Suicide By Cop” Phenomenon


As police shootings stir controversy, the killing by two San Francisco sergeants of an apparently despondent man represented a different kind of confrontation: one in which the officers' unique position in society, and training in using deadly force, were exploited, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. While the sergeants who killed Matthew Hoffman, 32, on Sunday reportedly thought they were firing at an armed man in self-defense, they later learned that the weapon he pulled out was an airsoft pistol — and that he had saved a suicide note on his phone that was addressed to them and stated, “You had no other choice.”

Police and experts said it appeared to be a clear case of “suicide by cop,” a tragic but often murky phenomenon that lies at the intersection of law enforcement and mental health and can devastate all involved. “You have a note saying, ‘I used you' — but it doesn't make (the officers) feel any better,” said Vivian Lord, a University of North Carolina professor and author of “Suicide by Cop: a Comprehensive Examination of the Phenomenon and its Aftermath.” “It's hard enough to shoot somebody who is a hardened criminal,” she said. “It's much harder to shoot somebody that actually needs help.”

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