A suicidal person is perhaps one of the most dangerous calls that we may go on as police officers. But not all calls of suicidal persons involve an immediate threat of physical harm to the suicidal subject. Many times officers may be dispatched to a suicidal person by a third party or the suicidal subject themselves where appropriate police action must be taken in order to provide the individual with the appropriate mental health treatment.

Suicide is a self-inflicted death in which the person acts intentionally, directly, and consciously. Suicidal acts may be connected to recent events or current conditions in a person’s life. Common triggering factors include stressful events, mood and thought changes, alcohol and other drug use, and mental disorders. Most are not acutely psychotic at the time of the attempt and most are depressed. The nature of their problem is usually more understandable, making them easier to communicate with. Suicidal people have feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and do not believe there is any way out of their situation. There are many different reasons why people commit suicide.

A call for an emotionally disturbed person can turn to a suicidal subject in a flash. While in route to a call for any emotionally disturbed person, gather as much information as possible prior to arrival on scene. Information such as:

  • Whether the person is armed with weapons
  • Medical or psychiatric history
  • Location of subject (home, park, ect.)
  • Presence of other adults, children, friends
  • Whether the person is violent
  • Whether the person has an arrest record or history of violence
  • Whether the person has a history of alcohol or substance abuse
  • Whether other uniformed personnel are on the scene (ambulance, fire department, police)
  • Whether other officers know the person

Remember that a suicidal person may attempt to have others kill him or her. “Suicide by Cop” or provoking an officer to kill a person is not uncommon. Remain calm; displays of tension can heighten a critical situation. Make a plan and follow it, rushing to rescue a person increases risk to all. Be alert- crisis situations are unstable; continuously evaluate the crisis. Remember that a suicidal person may be come homicidal. If suicidal gestures are not apparent, ask the person about suicidal intent. Minimize the presence of people with no need to be at the scene, including law enforcement personal. This will reduce embarrassment as well as potential negative stimulation in the environment. Do not make sudden moves- use physical tactics as a last resort. Do not leave person unattended. Do not deny the person’s suicidal feelings. Do not rush/ pressure the person to make decisions or to abandon their suicidal plan.
Officer safety is paramount and the most important thing at the end of the day is to go home to your family. The police response to suicidal subjects should be taught to officers on numerous levels such as physical tactics, verbal tactics and the psychology of suicide.
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