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Suicide by cop refers to a situation where an individual intentionally provokes a fatal shooting by law enforcement personnel. This method of suicide takes advantage of the training that many law officers receive regarding the protection of their own lives and those of others. Law enforcement personnel are commonly trained to use lethal force if they believe someone is in danger of being shot, an explosive device may be triggered, or any number of other circumstances that could place innocent lives in danger. An individual may plan to commit suicide using any of these actions that could be expected to trigger a lethal response.
The term suicide by cop originated in the 1980s, though the phenomenon has existed through much of recorded history. Examples exist in records that date to Roman times, and a number of more modern historical examples also fit the general description. Suicide by cop has only been studied since about 1985, when a scientific journal first investigated it. The term may have first appeared in the United States but examples have occurred in other countries, and a jury trial in the United Kingdom determined in 2003 that someone had committed suicide in this way.
People have used a variety of different methods to commit suicide by cop throughout the years. One of the most common is to simply brandish a gun and aim it at an officer of the law or a bystander, as an officer will often use lethal force if he believes a life is in danger. Many people have used toy guns, air pistols, or other nonfunctional weapons to achieve this end. Others have attempted to run a police officer over with their vehicle, threatened to arm an explosive device, or exhibited other behavior that threatened innocent lives. Anything that could potentially trigger a law enforcement officer's training could feasibly be exploited by a suicidal individual.
It is often difficult to determine whether suicide was intended, as the state of mind of the deceased individual is not always known. In some cases a person will leave a suicide note before precipitating a lethal response. The deceased individual's actions may also lead to a determination of suicide by cop, especially if they make specific statements or brandish nonfunctional weapons. This is not an absolute indicator though, as many perpetrators will succeed in killing a number of law enforcement personnel or innocent bystanders before they are shot.