Suicide by cop: implications for crisis (hostage) negotiations

Date09 September 2014
Publication Date09 September 2014
AuthorMarina Sarno,Vincent B. Van Hasselt
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology
Suicide by cop: implications for crisis
(hostage) negotiations
Marina Sarno and Vincent B. Van Hasselt
Marina Sarno is a Doctoral
Candidate, based at
Department of Clinical
Psychology, Centre for
Psychological Studies, Nova
Southeastern University, Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, USA.
Dr Vincent B. Van Hasselt is
a Professor, based at
Department of Psychology and
Criminal Justice, Centre for
Psychological Studies, Nova
Southeastern University, Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, USA.
Purpose – Suicide by cop (SbC) is a growing problem and presents special challenges to crisis (hostage)
negotiation teams. The purpose of this paper is to examine current definitions of SbC, early warning signs of
SbC, successful and unsuccessful resolution of cases, and strategies that have proven most effective to
resolve these incidents. Recommendations regarding appropriate training and coping strategies in dealing
with the post-shooting emotional sequelae of SbC are presented.
Design/methodology/approach – With a dearth of empirical knowledge regarding how to properly
respond to SbC crisis incidents, an extensive literature review was conducted to ascertain extant strategies
to de-escalate and reduce the lethality of these events.
Findings – Results indicated that SbC crisis incidents are more likely to be resolved if officers provide
reassurance for the way that subject’sfeel, comply with reasonable requests, and offer alternative or realistic
options. Establishing rapport by spending time with the subject and utilizing active listening skills can
decrease the likelihood of another episode in the future.
Practical implications – These findings have implications for the efficient training of law enforcement
officers in general, and crisis negotiators, in particular, in how to appropriately deal with SbC events.
The authors also highlight specific errors in negotiation and how to observe early warning signs in the SbC
subject to inform prevention and intervention strategies.
Originality/value – The paper adds to the limited literature on crisis negotiation techniques for resolving
SbC incidents.
Keywords Negotiation, Crisis negotiation, Law enforcement, Suicide by cop
Paper type Literature review
Each year, over 38,000 people die by suicide in the USA, making suicide the fourth leading
cause of death in individuals ages 18-65 (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2013).
Although the act of suicide has been extensively studied, the phenomenon of suicide by
cop (SbC) and effective crisis (hostage) negotiation strategies for peacefully resolving these
incidents, have received a modicum of attention. SbC has also been referred to as police-
assisted suicide, law enforcement-assisted suicide, suicide by police, and victim-precipitated
homicide (cf Flynn and Homant, 2000; Lord, 2000; Strentz, 2005; Wolfgang, 1959). The lack of
consensus on how to accurately define SbC has led to challenges in research concerning this
phenomenon. In SbC, the subject experiences suicidal ideation and views police officers as
instruments to achieve their lethal end (Homant et al., 2000). This complex mental state has
made crisis negotiations with the SbC subject particularly difficult for police.
It is critical for law enforcement agencies in general, and crisis negotiation teams, in particular,to
study SbC in order to be able to recognize and respond to these events. This paper will
examine: current definitions of SbC, and how these definitions have led to disparate prevalence
estimates; early warning signs of SbC; successful and unsuccessful resolution of cases;
and strategies that have proven most effective in specific incidents. We conclude by
recommending strategies that may have value for crisis negotiators. These may assist officers in
DOI 10.1108/JCP-05-2014-0009 VOL. 4 NO. 2 2014, pp. 143-154, CEmerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829
PAGE 143

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