Two years ago, Chad Irwin’s wife called the cops on her husband.
He was behaving erratically, had a knife and had potentially mixed alcohol with pain medications — and his wife was afraid that he was a danger to himself.
According to witness reports, Irwin asked the officers if they were going to shoot him if he ran at them, and then approached the officers with a knife. The officer who shot and killed Irwin was cleared in criminal court, but Irwin’s family is now suing in civil court, with a trial coming up in January.
Irwin’s case of suicide-by-cop is not unheard of, and there are other examples of suicidal individuals threatening officers in order to provoke them into shooting. These situations raise difficult questions for the officers about how to negotiate the situation.
What non-lethal alternatives do officers have to deal with a suicide-by-cop situation? How can an officer recognize when an individual is suicidal? What are the options on the table?
Justin Ramsdell, crisis intervention trainer for Arlington and Fairfax Counties’ Sheriff’s and Police Departments; Assistant Professor of Psychology at George Mason University; he is also an expert witness with Robson Forensic
Laurence Miller, clinical, forensic and law enforcement psychologist based in Boca Raton, Florida; he works as a mental health consultant with a variety of law enforcement agencies, including as a police psychologist for the West Palm Beach Police Department