The killing of a man who apparently wanted to be shot by St. Charles, Mo., police illustrates a phenomenon that can be an officer’s worst nightmare, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Suicide-by-cop” incidents can leave police with feelings of guilt or of being tricked into using deadly force, feelings that often are compounded by media accounts of the shooting that depict the deceased as the victim. “Police find out after the fact that they didn’t need to shoot to protect themselves. It angers them that they hurt or killed someone,” said David Klinger, a former police officer now a criminologist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. The result can be post-traumatic-type symptoms, such as hypervigilance, impulsiveness, and difficulty sleeping, said Kristin Bulin of Provident Counseling. Often adding to the problem is the police officer’s macho image, which can make him or her reluctant to seek help, although that is changing with younger officers.
No national database of such shootings exists, but most criminologists cite a study examining 437 officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles County between 1988 and 1997. The report, which appeared in the “Annals of Emergency Medicine,” found that 11 percent could be classified as suicide by cop and concluded that the event is an actual form of suicide. Law enforcement has tried to prepare itself for the types of threats officers face in a suicide-by-cop situation. Through the use of shotguns loaded with bean-bag rounds and electronic tasers, officers have more options when faced with a threat. When confronted with a firearm, police don’t always have an option.