2 / FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
suicidal officer were reported inthe United States between 1995and 2002.
Of these 22 reportedincidents, 3 resulted in suicides.However, law enforcement sui-cide incidents may occur morefrequently than the number actu-ally reported. Some of the mostcommon reasons given for sui-cides among law enforcementinclude relationship problems,legal trouble, psychologicalproblems, and work-relatedstress.
Recently, the author inter-viewed several crisis negotiatorsfrom the FBI and the police andsheriff’s departments in both LosAngeles and San Diego, Califor-nia, regarding their experienceswith officer-involved incidents.
These negotiators reported thatthey had experienced or knew of an incident at their agency in-volving a suicidal or barricadedofficer. Some of those inter-viewed negotiated with an in-cri-sis member of other departmentsand others negotiated with mem-bers of their own agency. One of the interviewees reported negoti-ating with a relative, althoughthe officer in crisis did not knowthe negotiator’s identity. Inter-view results have shown thatnegotiating with another policeofficer does not constitute a phe-nomenon but, rather, an issuethat agencies must confront andhandle.In an attempt to protect fel-low officers from embarrass-ment or potential disciplinary ac-tion, some members of lawenforcement try to resolve thesituation privately, even co-vertly. Law enforcement suicide,like law enforcement domesticviolence, is not a topic comfort-ably discussed.
For officers toadmit that they feel suicidal orhave domestic problems is closeto admitting that they have lostcontrol. In a profession that ex-pects its members to always be incontrol, law enforcement can beunforgiving or ill-prepared tohandle an officer’s admission of personal or interpersonal prob-lems. This does not mean thatofficer-involved crisis incidentscould be prevented if lawenforcement culture becamemore accepting of vulnerabilitiesamong its own personnel.Rather, it is important to ac-knowledge that these situationsdo occur and law enforcementagency personnel must remainmindful of how best to respondto that unexpected, dreadedphone call.
The Appropriate Response
When responding to an in-cident, most law enforcementpersonnel probably would saythat they act tactically, logically,and compassionately. However,would their response be the sameif the subject was a fellow of-ficer? Perhaps, the responderwould consider using the lowestlevel of intervention with a col-league, trying to engage him inconversation.
This may provea viable option when a low levelof intervention can resolve aparticular situation. For thisreason, agencies should have awell-respected peer support pro-gram that encourages employeesto call a coworker for mental
Officer Terhune-Bickler serves with the Santa Monica, California, Police Department,is a crisis negotiator, and coordinates the department’s peer support program.
...agencies should have a well-respected peer support program that encourages employees to call a coworker for mental health referrals and resources.