Incident analysis: Las Vegas OIS highlights challenges of ‘suicide by cop’ calls By:

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On February 20, 2024, Las Vegas dispatchers received a suicide attempt call stating that a man appeared to be trying to cut his arm off behind a store. When officers arrived, they found the man, his left arm bleeding, carrying what appeared to be a sword.

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The subject started to walk toward the officers. The officers requested and then ordered him to stop coming any closer. The subject continued his advance on the officers. The officers attempted to create distance by walking backward to de-escalate the situation.

The officers requested a shield and a 40mm launcher. As the suspect continued to close the distance, the launcher was fired, striking the suspect in the leg and causing him to fall to the ground. He immediately got back up and ran toward the officers raising the edged weapon in an apparent attempt to strike.

The officers shot a total of five times. The suspect went down, and officers started first aid treatment. The subject died later at the hospital.

This is another example of a suicide by cop that officers have to face on an all too frequent basis.

Here are some considerations when dealing with an apparent suicide by cop call.

Mindset

Your perception of the scene can determine how you respond. If you receive a call about a man attempting to cut his arm off, what would your response be? Would you arrive at the scene and attempt to render aid, using your de-escalation training once the scene is safe? Or would you approach the situation as if dealing with an armed and dangerous subject?

In this situation, it could be either or both. Persons who are suicidal are focused on ending their own lives, and if they maintain that focused intent, they don’t pose an immediate threat to officers. However, understand that internally focused homicidal intent can quickly change to external homicidal intent, as shown in this video.

Public/officer safety is your priority

Regardless of your mindset, the safety of the public, yourself, and your partners is the priority. Setting up good containment and maintaining a safe distance is crucial. That safe distance will be determined by the known possible threats — firearms, edged weapons, and vehicles. Additionally, consider the environment you find yourself in, such as crowded apartments, parking lots, and busy street corners.

Cover will stop an attack or slow down an attacker. Identify those points and use them whenever possible.

The ability to use cover and distance can afford you more time to deal with the situation, identify the specific problems, and negotiate a peaceful resolution if the suspect is capable of or chooses to engage in the de-escalation process.

You bring one with you to every call

“Every call is a ‘person with a gun’ call” is a common saying in law enforcement because officers bring a gun to every call. On every call, you also bring a means of escape and another potentially deadly weapon: your squad car.

If your squad car is equipped with a device to prevent it from being driven off, you have lowered that risk. Just locking the doors keeps it safe from theft until someone breaks a window. Then, anything inside the car is at the disposal of the subject to use as they wish.

Crossfire

On all calls, we need to be aware of and avoid crossfire considerations. Does your training include lowering your weapon when someone crosses your line of fire? Does your training include shouting a warning if you see a crossfire or a crossfire situation about to occur?

In tense situations with multiple parties on scene, crossfire is a constant threat. You need to be trained and practiced in dealing with it for your safety, as well as the safety of your partners and the public.

Call for a shield

A shield can be useful in a situation like this if you have a trained, practiced and coordinated plan. If you don’t, don’t expect good things to happen, especially under stress.

40mm less lethal

Like any tool in our arsenal, the 40mm launcher has successes and failures. Have a backup plan if the round(s) don’t have the desired effect.

In this case, one round was fired, and it took the suspect down. Additional shots might have kept him down, but we will never know. If a 40mm launcher is being used for anything other than launching gas when quick multiple rounds need to be fired, then a single-shot launcher is not an ideal choice for the job.

Regardless of how many shots your launcher holds, when was the last time you practiced reloading it quickly?

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Unfortunately, de-escalation is only effective when the subject is capable and willing to participate in the communication and de-escalation attempt. You need to be mentally and physically prepared to deal with the possible outcomes of responding to people in crisis.

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