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Twenty-Eight Suicides: The Law Enforcement Experience

By Frederick J. Lanceley

In the early 1980s, the author incorporated crisis/suicide intervention into the hostage negotiation course at the FBI Academy. In preparing to teach the course, the author took some crisis/suicide intervention courses, studied many articles, and read several books by authorities in the field. Over the course of several years in teaching suicide intervention to law enforcement negotiators and working suicides, it became increasingly obvious that the law enforcement experience did not match the literature on suicide.

Because of this apparent disparity, the author conducted a research project that looked at the final moments of the suicidal person’s life. Twenty-eight incidents were reviewed in detail by systematically interviewing negotiators who were in the author’s seminars and who were talking to individuals when those persons committed suicide. The observations and recommendations in this paper are based upon that research, personal experience, crisis negotiator reports and courtroom observations by the author.


The mental health profession has made very significant strides in the treatment of depression in recent years. However, few mental health professionals have been on-scene to witness a suicide. Who is sometimes there when someone commits suicide? Law enforcement.

There is no doubt that suicide and crisis centers have helped many thousands of people across the United States. However, studies have indicated that the emergence of these centers has not significantly affected the suicide rate in the United States. One explanation for the lack of impact on the suicide rate is that only the mildly suicidal person telephones a suicide/crisis hotline. If suicide/crisis hotlines are not in contact with seriously suicidal persons or those who actually commit suicide, who does interact with these individuals? Law enforcement.

  Law enforcement interacts with persons at all levels of suicidal intent from the mildly depressed, lonely, suicidal homemaker to a man standing at the top of a bridge threatening to jump or sitting in his car with a gun in his mouth. Law enforcement and, particularly, negotiators work with the seriously suicidal and law enforcement is, on occasion, there when people commit suicide.

If one wanted to know what a person who is intent on suicide looks like, it seemed reasonable to ask someone who was there when the suicide occurred and that is what the author did. Via an interview protocol, the author questioned negotiators about their experience with persons who went on to commit suicide.

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August 2005