Not that there is a lack of ironies when it comes to police interactions with the public, but few are more inane than the handling of a call for a potentially suicidal person. By definition, this is a person who courts death, and the reason for the call to police is to stop him from doing so.
Does this elude the officers, or does the First Rule of Policing trump reason? From the IndyStar:
Noblesville police shot and injured a 27-year old man in a parking lot at Riverview Hospital on Saturday night, but details of what led to the shooting are still unclear. [T][he incident began when police were called to the hospital to assist with a person who they believe was suicidal. Officers encountered the man in a parking lot on the east side of the hospital.
There would seem to be a few things cops would realize from the start. First, that a suicidal guy isn’t going to be compliant. Second, that a suicidal guy isn’t going to be rational. Third, that a suicidal guy wants to die. These are the hallmarks of people who are suicidal. So what do the Noblesville police do?
According to a statement, the officers attempted to use “less than lethal munitions” on the man, but the maneuver was ineffective and the man disobeyed the officers’ verbal commands..
There is no explanation of what “less than lethal” force was used or why it was “ineffective.” Indeed, there is no explanation of why any force was used, as the closest the story comes to providing any “wrong” is that the man “disobeyed” commands.
So? He’s suicidal, not vying for the local PBA citizenship award. What did you expect?
The officers, then “perceived a threat” from the man, according to the police statement, and shot him twice.
Whenever crafty yet meaningless language like this is used, “perceived a threat,” it’s invariably to mask the absence of anything remotely factual. Perhaps it morphs into a “fighting stance” claim, or “threatening stare,” the sorts of unprovable contentions used to justify post hoc conduct.
Spokesmen for the police department and sheriff’s office could not confirm whether the man had a weapon, whether the non-lethal munitions mentioned by police was a Taser or what actions by the man may have caused the officers to perceive a threat.
But this is the kicker, when spokesmen “could not confirm” whether the person just shot by cops was armed. If he has so much as a bottle cap that could have taken out an officer’s eye, they would not only have known that, but made absolutely sure that everyone realized that this guy was about to take down a hero.
Never, but never, does a spokesmen not know whether a person just shot by cops was armed. And if he had every gotten a ticket for violent jaywalking, you can bet he would know that as well.
So assuming, arguendo, that the officers confronted an unarmed, suicidal, non-compliant man in a hospital parking lot, one might expect them to be trained in the handling of such a situation. So they shoot?
Despite two shots, the man apparently survived, to be taken to another hospital about a half hour away, though the hospital to which he was taken had the appropriate trauma center. Was this a matter of the shooting cop being a good marksman or bad?
Police officers are trained that if they have the authority to use lethal force, they use it to kill. Despite aficionados of Roy Rogers’ movies, police do not shoot to cripple. They shoot to kill, suggesting that on top of everything else, the Noblesville officer who fired was in need of some quality time at the range as well.
Did it occur to the officers that the entire point of being called to assist a suicidal man isn’t to perform the act for him, but to prevent the act from occurring? If somebody wants to die, does this mean the easiest way is to call the cops and, upon their arrival, take a “fighting stance?”
One of the growing concerns is that seeking the assistance of police for someone in distress, whether victim, complainant or, as in this case, potential suicide, is the surest route to things ending badly. As much as I try, on occasion, to distinguish the harm they do from the necessity of having police as a means of protecting and serving, it’s stories like this that leave me with the sense that not only are we left without anyone to protect us from potential harm, but that calling the police is akin to rolling the dice as to whether someone will be saved or end up dead.
This wasn’t a confused situation, with life-threatening possibilities and police called upon to make snap-judgments in the face of impending doom. That the guy survived is pure luck that the officers who arrives couldn’t shoot straight. The situation doesn’t get much clearer, simpler. And yet they shot the suicidal guy anyway. There is no rational explanation for it, and it serves to remind us that calling the police for help is a crap shoot.