Year: 2023 Source: Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law. (2023). 51(2). DOI:10.29158/JAAPL.220062-22 Key SIEC No: 20231460
Suicide by cop (SbC) is a variant of victim-precipitated homicide. In SbC, a citizen intent on dying provokes police, often with credible threats of violence. A fatality results in ambiguity about manner of death (homicide versus suicide). Decedents' families may raise claims of civil-rights violations, asserting insufficient restraint by officers. Police officers, when questioned, may justify their actions as reasonable and necessary force. Defendant officers and municipalities are concerned about police safety and adverse economic and public-perception consequences of litigation. This article explores the history and evolution of the SbC phenomenon, examines related civil case law, and reviews the contours of police-citizen interactions in SbC cases. There is potential liability for officers whose actions must be objectively reasonable to prevail in court. Since SbC can be admitted as evidence, there may be an expanded role for forensic psychiatry in distinguishing manner of death. Expert testimony can also aid fact finders in appreciating the decisions of officers faced with ambiguous and threatening situations. The author recommends collaboration between law enforcement and mental health professionals to improve recognition and handling of difficult situations involving persons with mental illness.