Law Enforcers Fear ‘Suicide by Cop’ Calls

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The Plumas County, Ca., Sheriff’s office refused to respond to a report of a man hanging himself in the garage because the situation could end as a “suicide by cop.” Some small and midsize law enforcement agencies across the state have stopped responding to certain calls because of the potential dangers to both officers and the person attempting to end his or her life. They also present a financial liability from lawsuits, especially if the situation turns violent, the Los Angeles Times reports. Other departments use “disengagement” strategies that allow them to leave calls without confronting someone in crisis. These tactics are used most often when the person is alone and does not present a threat to anyone else, and no crime is being committed.

“In too many instances, we show up and further aggravate a crisis situation,” Plumas County Sheriff-Coroner Greg Hagwood said. “And then, in the end, bad things happen.” Some fear that, as police stand down, civilians will be left to handle potentially dangerous situations alone. Hagwood and others in law enforcement say the profession must examine its legal and moral obligations in an era when use of force is under intense scrutiny and there is pressure to curtail deadly police incidents. The fear of encountering a suicide by cop event — when a person takes actions, such as brandishing a weapon, that prompt officers to use deadly force — is worrying. In a 2009 study of more than 700 officer-involved shootings nationwide, 36 percent of incidents were determined to be attempts at provoking officers to use deadly force. Critics say “suicide by cop” too often is used to justify police violence. In the 2009 study, researchers found police killed the suicidal person more than half of the time and injured the person in 40 percent of encounters.

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