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Suicide by cop: implications for crisis (hostage) negotiations

Marina Sarno (Doctoral Candidate, based at Department of Clinical Psychology, Centre for Psychological Studies, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA)
Vincent B. Van Hasselt (Professor, based at Department of Psychology and Criminal Justice, Centre for Psychological Studies, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 9 September 2014



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.


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.


Results indicated that SbC crisis incidents are more likely to be resolved if officers provide reassurance for the way that subject's feel, 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.


The paper adds to the limited literature on crisis negotiation techniques for resolving SbC incidents.



Sarno, M. and B. Van Hasselt, V. (2014), "Suicide by cop: implications for crisis (hostage) negotiations", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 143-154.



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