It’s called “suicide by cop.” The May 7 incident underscores concerns — hardly unique to Montgomery County — about whether police are properly trained to deal with these fraught calls.
The fatal shooting of 30-year-old Finan H. Berhe by Sgt. David Cohen, a 17-year veteran of the force, was called “tragic” and “unfortunate” by Montgomery Police Chief Marcus Jones. The case is being investigated by prosecutors from neighboring Howard County under a standing — and commendable — agreement to review each other’s police-involved shootings. Also praiseworthy was the decision by Montgomery police to quickly release the officer’s body camera footage of the events that unfolded in the 1500 block of Hadden Manor Court in White Oak.
The video captures a terrifying moment. Within a span of 90 seconds, the officer repeatedly commands Mr. Berhe to “put the knife down” and “get on the ground” before the shots are fired. Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum told us he watched the video at least 10 times and is convinced it was a case of suicide by cop. He also believes the officer did what he — like police officers in departments across the country — was trained to do, but that the tactics used are outdated and ineffective.
The forum has developed a protocol attuned to people in possible distress. Instead of advancing, drawing a gun, shouting commands — all actions that can increase the anxiety of a troubled person, exacerbating the situation and increasing the risk both for them and the officer — police are trained in techniques that include backing away, creating safe distances and engaging in conversation. The protocol, which stresses that police must first consider their own safety and that of others, has been ground-tested and found to be safe and effective. But it’s been a hard sell to persuade the tradition-bound police profession to try something new.
Montgomery police are awaiting the outcome of the investigation. In the meantime, it is encouraging that within days of the incident, Mr. Wexler and Chief Jones talked and, as the chief told us, the department is looking at implementing the forum's protocol for managing "suicide by cop" situations.