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Book Reviews   |    
Suicide by Cop: Committing Suicide by Provoking Police to Shoot You
Reviewed by Debra A. Pinals, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2005; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.56.11.1470
View Author and Article Information

by Mark Lindsay and David Lester; Amityville, New York, Baywood Publishing, 2004, 128 pages, $32.95

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Who would have thought Suicide by Cop: Committing Suicide by Provoking Police to Shoot You, by Mark Lindsay and David Lester, would include mention of Antigone and Socrates? These ancient Greek figures seem far removed from what the reader would expect from the book's title. Nevertheless, the book's authors, who have law enforcement and social and political scientific backgrounds, include these figures as part of vignettes of persons who are seeking death at the hands of the state through execution. Also included is a review of the life and death of Gary Gilmore, the first person to be executed in the United States after a hiatus in state executions of approximately one decade. State executions would not meet any formal definition of suicide by cop, a situation wherein a suicidal individual intentionally engages in specific behavior to provoke a law enforcement officer to use lethal force so that the individual will be killed.

In fact, the authors of this compact text cover a variety of areas not commonly seen in existing literature on suicide by cop, including suicide following the murder of police officers or other individuals. A broader title for this book might have helped me understand the direction the book would take. Nevertheless, reading the book in its entirety provides a spectrum of situations that, through extrapolation, share related themes.

Within this context, the authors do a decent job of describing the phenomenon of suicide by cop, looking at its epidemiology as well as providing suggested directions for reducing its incidence. They describe situations in which suicide by cop may take place, including those involving barricades or hostages. Although the book does not fully address the rigor of the existing research on these topics—which is often a major critique of papers on this topic—it does reference many important articles. Also, the section about helping police officers provides a balanced commentary on the issues of critical incident debriefing, which has generated some controversy among clinicians as to its effectiveness in preventing anxiety disorders. The bibliography at the end of the book will be useful for anyone who is interested in pursuing further reading in this area.

Probably one of the more unique chapters is Chapter 5, which addresses victim-precipitated homicide in other cultures. For example, the authors describe "crazy dog wishing to die," a phenomenon of the Plains Indians, such as the Crow, wherein a man who is tired of living deliberately seeks death in battle and is accorded special status if he persists in his plan. According to the authors, rituals before the battle include singing special songs and using a special rattle. In addition, the book devotes an entire chapter to suicide by cop among African Americans. However, in this chapter, the authors come close to using racial stereotypes. They tell the stories of the Black Panthers and the MOVE confrontations in the 1970s, which, again, seem somewhat removed from the book's topic.

Given the growing interest in encounters between law enforcement officers and persons with mental disorders, Suicide by Cop is a useful reference. The book's casual, unscientific style in many ways makes it more geared toward law enforcement than mental health professionals. However, the book's contents provide some interesting perspectives for anyone who is interested in the phenomenon of suicide by cop and of seeking suicide by proxy.

Dr. Pinals is affiliated with the department of psychiatry of Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts.

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