Ask a Cop – September 2012

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Illustration: Sean Hennefer

Dear Copper,
Something I’ve been curious about is the term Suicide By Cop. I know police are heavily trained to take a suspect down with as much non-lethal force as possible, like tazers and tactical batons, but there are always situations where police end up having to pull their sidearm. I guess for some criminals its better to take the chickenshit way out and threaten the police rather than go to prison. My questions about this are: How are police trained in situations like this? Is there a different kind of training involved, and a different kind of counseling they take afterward compared to being in any other type of shooting? What’s the policy when it comes to the judgment call? Are they encouraged to take them down as best they can, or just give the suicidal suspect what they want?
Love; Pondering in Provo.

Dear Ponderer,
Cops can use force that is reasonable and necessary to either affect an arrest, or stop whatever criminal activity is occurring. It’s reasonable for me to tell a shoplifter to put their hands behind their back and handcuff them. It’s not reasonable or necessary for me to hit them in the head with my nightstick before I arrest them. However, if they resist or assault me after I tell them they’re under arrest, I can punch, force, drive, stun, bitch slap––whatever is “reasonable and necessary”—to affect their arrest. In general, reasonable and necessary is what governs cops’ use of force.

Understanding this, deadly force is no different. If an evil shit decides to kill someone, a cop can reasonably stop their homicidal action by whatever force is necessary. This includes shooting them. Yes, cops are trained to shoot to stop, but what’s the best way to stop a probable killer? Kill them first. That definitely stops them. As you put it, “chickenshit” people will use this cop knowledge to end their existence. People try it across this nation every day. Cops really don’t have the luxury to worry about it. They’re too busy trying to stay alive and take action based on facts. They see a suspect with a gun or knife, whatever weapon—it could even be a car—and the cop is trained to stop that person’s deadly intent. They do so knowing that the decision they had one quarter of one second to make will be second guessed and judged by every Tom, Dick and Harry with hours to decide, and no experience battling potential killers.

Keeping that in mind, cops accept that suicide-by-cop freaks exist. Peace officers are trained, based on facts, to not exacerbate a situation. They’re trained to de-escalate encounters. Most of the time, these efforts work. However, there are those who are determined to die, and since they’re too “chickenshit” to do it themselves (generally because people who are suicidal, in my opinion, are extremely selfish), they use another human being to do it for them. The “counseling” after a traumatic event such as this is the same for cops in any traumatic event. The “suicide by cop” doesn’t affect the case other than it being one of the many facts involved.

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