Suicide by cop

Suicide by cop is a suicide method in which a suicidal individual deliberately acts in a threatening way, with the goal of provoking a lethal response from a law enforcement officer or other armed individual, such as being shot to death.[1]

While the phrase is colloquial ("cop" being slang for police officer) and primarily used in the United States media, it has become the most popular name for the phenomenon. Other names include death by cop, suicide-by-police, and blue suicide (a reference to the blue uniforms worn by many police officers). Two more technical terms often used in research are officer- (or police-) assisted suicide and Victim-Precipitated Homicide, though these are much broader and encompass other situations beyond this subject.[1]



The idea of committing suicide in this manner is based on trained procedures of law enforcement officers, specifically the policy on the use of deadly force. In jurisdictions where officials are readily capable of deadly force (often by being equipped with firearms), there are usually set circumstances where they will predictably use deadly force against a threat to themselves or others. This form of suicide functions by exploiting this trained reaction. The most common scenario is pointing a firearm at a police officer or an innocent person, which would reasonably provoke an officer to fire on them in defense. However, many variants exist; for example, attacking with a knife or other hand weapon, trying to run an officer or other person over with a car, or trying to trigger a (real or presumed) explosive device.

This entire concept hinges on the person's state of mind, and their desire to end their own life, which can be difficult to determine post mortem. Some cases are obvious, such as pointing an unloaded or non-functioning gun (such as a toy gun or starter's pistol) at officers, or the presence of a suicide note. Some suspects brazenly announce their intention to die before they act (e.g., the iconic declaration "You'll never take me alive!"). However, many cases can be more difficult to determine, as some suspects with the desire to die will actually fire live ammunition and even kill people before being killed themselves. Many law enforcement training programs have added sections to specifically address handling these situations if officers suspect that the subject is attempting to goad them into using lethal force.

The aftermath of such events is often traumatic for the officers involved.[2]


While only formally studied in late 20th century, the concept of deliberately precipitating one’s own slaying by the provocation of executive officials may span back to the late Roman Empire. In 4th century northern Africa, a Donatist sect known as the Circumcellions (or "agonistici") emerged that held the concept of martyrdom to be very sacred. On occasion, members of this group assaulted Roman legionaries or armed travelers with simple wooden clubs to provoke them into attacking and martyring them. Others interrupted courts of law and verbally provoked the judge so that he would order their immediate execution (a normal punishment at the time for contempt of court).[3]

Many modern cases that pre-date the formal recognition of the phenomenon have been identified or speculated by historians as matching the pattern now known as suicide by cop. According to authors Mark Lindsay and David Lester, Houston McCoy, one of the two Austin Police Department officers who shot and killed Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower sniper, believed that Whitman could have shot him and fellow officer Ramiro Martinez, but "he was waiting for them, and wanted to be shot."[4] The 1976 death of Mal Evans, road manager, assistant, and a friend of The Beatles, who aimed an air gun at police and refused to put it down, was theorized as a possible example of this phenomenon.[5] Some historians believe that Giuseppe Zangara, the man who killed Chicago mayor Anton Cermak in a possible attempt to assassinate then President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, might have been attempting suicide by police.[6]

Recognition and research

The phenomenon has been described in news accounts from 1981,[7] and scientific journals since 1985.[7] The earliest use of the phrase itself was in 1988[8] and it did not become common until the early 2000s. The phrase seems to have originated in the United States, but has also appeared in the UK, where a jury first determined someone committed suicide by cop in 2003.[9]

Some of the first research into suicide by cop was completed by Sgt. Rick Parent of the Delta Police Department. Parent's research of 843 police shootings determined that about 50% were victim precipitated homicide. Police defined victim precipitated homicide as "an incident in which an individual bent on self-destruction, engages in life threatening and criminal behavior to force law enforcement officers to kill them."[10]

The first formally labeled "Suicide by Cop" case in English legal history was a judgment made by Reverend Dr William Dolman while serving as a London coroner between 1993 and 2007.[11] It set a legal precedent and the judgment, as a cause of death, has been a part of English law since.

Other Notable examples

See also


  1. ^ a b Stincelli, Rebecca A. (2004). Suicide by cop: victims from both sides of the badge. Folsom, Calif: Interviews & Interrogations Institute. ISBN 0-9749987-0-2. 
  2. ^ Massad Ayoob (12 May 2011), "Suicide by cop: the Chris Raper incident", American Handgunner, 
  3. ^ Gibbon, Edward (1993). The History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire - Vol 2 – Chapter XXI – Part VII. New York, NY: Everyman's Library. ISBN 0-67942-308-7. 
  4. ^ Mark Lindsay, David Lester (2004). Suicide by cop: committing suicide by provoking police to shoot you. Baywood Publishing Company. p. 45. ISBN 9780895032904. Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  5. ^ Keith Bruce, Sunday Herald Sept 27, 2009
  6. ^ Executed Today, March 20
  7. ^ a b Zandt, Clinton R. "Suicide by Cop." National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.
  8. ^ Word Spy - suicide by cop
  9. ^ UK's first 'suicide by cop' ruling
  10. ^ Parent, Richard 2004. "Aspects of Police Use of Deadly Force In North America - The Phenomenon of Victim-Precipitated Homicide," Ph.D. thesis, Simon Fraser University.
  11. ^ "Suicide by cop" coroner retires, a brief bio of Dolman, December 2007.
  12. ^ [1], Man dies after being shot by police.

Further reading

  • Lindsay, M. & Lester D. 2004, Suicide by Cop: Committing Suicide by Provoking Police to Shoot You. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89503-290-2
  • Mohandie, K, Meloy, J.R. & Collins, P.I. (2009) Suicide by Cop Among Officer-Involved Shooting Cases – Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 54, No. 2, pp 456–462.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Suicide by cop — (dt. etwa Suizid durch Polizisten) bezeichnet eine Methode des Suizids mit dem Ziel, das Leben durch tödliche Schüsse zumeist eines Polizisten (oder aber auch durch andere bewaffnete Personen) zu beenden.[1] Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Hintergrund 2… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • suicide by cop — n. A form of suicide where people intentionally provoke police officers into shooting them. Example Citations: It happens dozens of times each year during jittery hostage dramas and routine traffic stops: desperate people lure police officers… …   New words

  • suicide by cop — noun The method of suicide where a person deliberately acts in a threatening way towards a police officer, with the purpose of being shot as response. Syn: death by cop …   Wiktionary

  • suicide by cop — noun suicide committed by deliberately placing oneself in a position where one is threatening the police with violent action in an attempt to force them to shoot in self defence …   Australian English dictionary

  • Suicide par police interposée — Suicide Généralités Autolyse · Tentative de suicide · Idée suicidaire · Euthanasie · Culture de la mort · Liste des pays par taux de suicide • Personnes suicidées  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Suicide par police interposee — Suicide par police interposée Suicide Généralités Autolyse · Mort · Tentative de suicide · Idée suicidaire · Euthanasie · Culture de la mort Formes particulières de suicide Attentat suicide · Suicide collectif · Suicide forcé · Suicide par police …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Suicide methods — Suicide …   Wikipedia

  • Suicide — For other uses, see Suicide (disambiguation). Suicide Classification and external resources …   Wikipedia

  • suicide magnet — n. A location such as a bridge or tower where a high number of suicides occur. Example Citation: Golden Gate designer Joseph Strauss declared in 1936 that his creation was practically suicide proof. But Mr. Strauss envisioned guard rails nearly 6 …   New words

  • suicide bomber — (SOO.uh.syd BAWM.ur) n. A person who deliberately kills himself or herself while detonating a bomb. suicide bomb, noun. The bomb used by such a person. suicide bombing, noun. The act of detonating such a bomb. Example Citation: In early August,… …   New words

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