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Suicide by cop (SBC) is a colloquial term used to describe an incident whereby a suicidal subject acts in a consciously life-threatening manner to the degree that it compels a police officer to respond with deadly force. 

Once the death has taken place, suicide becomes the manner of death; suicide by cop is the method.  To put it bluntly, the way a person dies can be by natural causes, homicide, or suicide.  In the latter, the method chosen by the deceased can vary according to what is at hand.  Succinctly, the means of death refers to the physiological changes that occur that lead to the individuals death, such as loss of oxygen to the brain.  Method of death refers to the process that caused the physiologic changes leading to death.  In this case “hanging by the neck” would cause the anoxic brain death.  In its most simplistic terms, it looks like this:

  • Manner of death:  suicide
  • Method of death:  suicide by cop
  • Means of death:  gunshot wound to chest

The characteristics for classifying a suicide by cop incident become clearer when we look at four basic criteria:

  • The suicidal subject must demonstrate the intent to die.
  • The suicidal subject must possess a clear understanding of the finality of the act.
  • The suicidal subject must confront a law enforcement official to the degree that it compels that officer to act with deadly force.
  • The suicidal subject actually dies.  (If the subject survives, this becomes an attempted suicide by cop).

There is an ongoing debate whether a suicidal subject is capable of understanding the finality of the act since they are under extreme emotional distress.  Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can also challenge the level of a "knowing state of mind."