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Greenwich officers prevent two possible ‘suicide by cop’ attempts

March 19, 2018 GMT

GREENWICH — Greenwich police are drawing attention to mental-health resources in the community after they responded to two high-profile suicide attempts earlier this month.

The two suicide attempts — involving young men with knives who apparently wanted to incite a “suicide by cop” shooting death, according to police — ended without any injuries. Law enforcement authorities are now highlighting the services that can prevent self-destructive people from endangering themselves or others.

On March 8, officers responded to a call from a young man on the west side of town who was threatening to hurt himself, police said. When they arrived, a man was carrying a large knife and spoke about a desire for officers to shoot him, , according to police Capt. Kraig Gray. The lead crisis negotiator from the police department, Lt. Eric Scorca, defused the situation, Gray said. The man was taken for medical treatment.

On March 13,officers were called to carry out a “welfare check” on an individual on the east side of town who was highly intoxicated, according to Gray. The man put a knife to his own throat and called on officers to shoot him, he said. The officers were able to ease the tension in the confrontation and take the man in for medical treatment, Gray said.

Both incidents appear to have been motivated, at least in part, by a desire to die through “suicide by cop,” a growing phenomenon in which a person engages in actual or apparent danger to others in an attempt to get killed or injured by law enforcement personnel. A 2009 study in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, examining police-shootings around the country, found that as many as 36 percent of all shootings could be categorized as SBC, “suicide by cop.” An earlier paper commissioned by the FBI estimated the number at 16 percent.

The phenomenon, and the term, was first described 30 years ago by a Karl Harris, a one-time police officer in California who went on to study psychology and work on a suicide hotline. Suicide by cop was typically carried out by men ages 21 to 35 who had substance-abuse problems, Harris and a colleague determined.

Gray praised the officers involved for what he called their professionalism in defusing potentially dangerous encounters — “a lot of restraint,” he said. As police officers, he said, “We have to be careful, and we have to be disciplined in the manner in which we approach a person in crisis.”

Law enforcement officials are promoting the services of a mental-health organization, the Dubois Center Crisis Intervention Hotline, which can be reached at 203-358-8500, or 800-586-9903.

“They work with out officers frequently, it’s a good resource,” Gray said.

Police also remind the public that a person going through a mental-health crisis won’t necessarily face charges, depending on the circumstances. “It doesn’t always end up in an arrest when the police come. We’re searching for the best way to help people, and it can be mental health services, not just an arrest,” he said.

Gray said friends or families of people expressing self-destructive tendencies should contact the Dubois Center for assistance, to be “proactive.”

According to departmental statistics, from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, there were 17 suicide-attempts in Greenwich, and four suicides. The department also responded to 173 cases of “emotionally distressed people” needing police intervention.