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LAPD had 35 suspected ‘suicide by cop’ incidents in 30 months

LAPD's logo
LAPD's logo

"Suicide-by-cop" incidents where a person deliberately provokes Los Angeles Police Department officers to kill represent a "significant sub-set" of police shootings and may signal the need for more training, the department's inspector general says.

In a report to the Los Angeles Police Commission, Inspector General Alex Bustamante reviewed 35 cases in the past 30 months where people appeared to purposely provoke LAPD officers to shoot them.

The report does not include the total number of fatal LAPD shootings in that same time frame.

“This highlights the ongoing importance of training for police officers regarding suicide-by-cop incidents, and, more generally, for officers encountering emotionally-disturbed and/or mentally ill individuals,” Bustamante said.

The shootings spanned a 30 month-period ending in June 2013 and involved cases in which officers were determined to have acted lawfully and within department policy when they killed the person.

In one case, a man called 911 to report a possible robbery at a fast food restaurant and provided a description of the man. But there was no robbery and the description he provided was of himself. After fatally shooting the man during a confrontation, police found the man had taped an air pistol to his hand and written a suicide note.

In another case, a man stopped for speeding grabbed for a knife in his car as officers spoke with him. He got out of his car and walked toward officers with it, then dropped to his knees and made the sign of the cross on his chest.

Then he rose, went toward officers, “repeatedly telling them to shoot him, and began swinging the knife,” the report said. Officers shot him in the chest.

Most incidents do not include suicide notes or people yelling for officers to shoot them, so it's impossible to determine how many officer-involved shootings are in fact suicides.

The inspector general urged the LAPD to review its policies regarding suicide by cop to determine if there are ways to avoid such scenarios. He also identified six recurrent features in the incidents:

  1. The subject calls 911 or takes some other form of action to prompt an encounter with police officers
  2. The subject does not attempt to leave the scene, but instead actively seeks confrontation with officers
  3. The subject makes verbal threats to kill officers and/or tells officers to shoot him    
  4. A subject who is not, in fact, armed with a firearm verbally indicates that he has a gun    
  5. The subject brandishes or simulates a weapon in a manner that appears to threaten officers with death or serious injury 
  6. When officers do not initially resort to the use of force, the subject does not comply with verbal commands and instead escalates the apparent threat until such time as force is used against him. 

The police commission will consider the report at its Tuesday meeting. You can read the full report below.