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Departments : Think It Through

Officer Suicide by Cop

A distraught fellow officer is intent on causing police to shoot and kill him. How will you respond?

July 15, 2015  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Photo: Vincent Taroc
Photo: Vincent Taroc

In every call for service, you should think things through before you begin your response. Each call can be broken down into three phases: pre-response, response, and post-response. The following scenario is designed to help you think things through rather than give you a specific way to handle the call.

Situation

You are the platoon lieutenant and you are out in the field on patrol. Your cellphone rings and the chief operator tells you she has a complainant on the line who says her former boyfriend is an officer who works at your agency. She is saying they recently broke up, that he returned to talk to her, and when she told him it was still over and he had to leave, he threatened to kill himself. He made it clear he would get even by making his own agency shoot him.

The complainant left to go to a relative's house nearby. Shortly thereafter, the officer called her telling her he was still parked in front of her house in his patrol car, fully armed, and had his radio and in-car computer turned on so he could monitor any response. If she didn't come back, he would call the agency himself and create a situation where they would have to kill him.

Initial Thoughts

Since the officer is monitoring his radio and computer, you have to find a way to cut him off from information or deceive him. You can communicate by cellphone; you can also instant message the squad without his seeing it. You look on your computer mapping and confirm that the officer's vehicle hasn't moved. You can assume he is looking for you to follow policy and procedure and that he knows standard tactics. You also know he is very distracted because he is focusing on reconciling with his ex-girlfriend. You have a slight advantage because action beats reaction. But you have to act fast if you want to catch him where he is; he might change his tactics and drive away.

Pre-Response

Think It Through Questions

• Are you going to follow policy and treat this like a barricaded suspect?
• How are you going to control information?
• How are you going to deal with the GPS tracking system?
• How can you keep him distracted?

You opt for the unconventional. You keep it business as usual on the radio and notify the chief operator not to put a call in. You will deal with her directly on your cellphone or through instant messaging. You tell her to keep the girlfriend on the line and await further instructions. You explain that from this point forward your radio traffic will be part of your planned deception to keep the officer in the dark. You call your sergeant over the radio supposedly to meet about a complaint on an Officer Smith on his squad. You intentionally sound angry over the radio.

Response

Think It Through Questions

• How can you get EMS deployed and keep them out of sight?
• How are you going to move your squad into place without being seen or heard by the officer?
• How are you going to approach to minimize the likelihood of gunfire?
• Are you prepared to shoot one of your own?

You advise EMS to stage without use of lights and sirens. You meet with your sergeant and explain the situation in detail. You tell your sergeant to have Officer Smith meet with you since the fake complaint you radioed is supposed to be about him. After further discussion, you decide to create a fake call for service that will put you and members of your squad in the general area and give you an excuse to call out the helicopter. You will then move into position and come up behind the officer's car. You will move to contact and use an L-shaped formation upon reaching the car to avoid any crossfire. You tell the dispatch supervisor to create a call for a missing 3-year-old, three streets over.

When Officer Smith arrives, you bring him up to speed. Since you are in the area, the three of you respond to the fake call. Your sergeant instant messages the rest of the squad and tells them to respond to the general area while pretending to look for the missing 3-year-old. You get on the radio and ask for aviation. You call the dispatch supervisor to get the girlfriend to call the ex-boyfriend back and keep him talking as long as she can. The radio fills with chatter about the missing 3-year-old.

You only have to cover three streets as you move to contact. You make your play. You get into position by sneaking up from the rear of the suicidal officer's patrol car and then you call him out. You tell him to put his hands up, that whatever is going on is not worth dying over. You tell him to look to his left so he can see the sergeant and Officer Smith pointing rifles at him.

Your sergeant, who knows the officer personally, takes over talking to him. You can see that the distraught officer has been totally caught off guard. He starts looking all around and your gut tells you he is thinking about going for his gun. Luckily for him, he doesn't. Instead, he puts his hands up and comes out. You secure him and start talking to him. He breaks down in tears and tells you he wasn't going to hurt anyone, that he just wanted his girlfriend back.

Post-Response

Think It Through Questions

• Mental health issue or criminal offense?
• What are you going to tell your chain of command?
• Do you seek counseling for everyone involved in the call?
• What about you, the decision-maker; are you OK?

You never gave the officer the chance to commit a crime, so you don't charge him with anything. You have him evaluated for mental illness. You conduct a thorough debrief and ask if any officers would like to seek counseling through your employee assistance program. You advise your chain of command. The suicidal officer gets institutionalized for a while, is let go from the force, and eventually returns to a normal life outside of law enforcement. He doesn't blame anyone but himself for his misfortune.

Final Thoughts

A slightly different version of this call actually happened to me. When the officer hesitated and looked around for what I thought was his gun, it was the longest two seconds of my life. I took a breath and hoped for the best but was prepared for the worst.
I was criticized later by a slew of Monday morning quarterbacks. There was even talk of my being disciplined for not handling the situation like a barricaded suspect. That was a long time ago. I feel we saved the officer's life and got him the help he needed. Killing anyone is a traumatic event even if you are forced to do so and legally justified. Having to kill one of your own makes it worse. If you have never had to face a critical incident involving a fellow officer, I suggest you think it through now so it will save you time and agony later.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He has over 28 years of law enforcement experience and is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve.


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Jon Retired LEO @ 8/2/2015 7:02 PM

Never been inn this situation but I believe there are a lot of variables on whatever you do. Not a good situation to say the least.

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