Elevated Prevalence of Suicide Attempts among Victims of Police Violence in the USA


Recent evidence suggests that police victimization is widespread in the USA and psychologically impactful. We hypothesized that civilian-reported police victimization, particularly assaultive victimization (i.e., physical/sexual), would be associated with a greater prevalence of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation. Data were drawn from the Survey of Police-Public Encounters, a population-based survey of adults (N = 1615) residing in four US cities. Surveys assessed lifetime exposure to police victimization based on the World Health Organization domains of violence (i.e., physical, sexual, psychological, and neglect), using the Police Practices Inventory. Logistic regression models tested for associations between police victimization and (1) past 12-month suicide attempts and (2) past 12-month suicidal ideation, adjusted for demographic factors (i.e., gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, income), crime involvement, past intimate partner and sexual victimization exposure, and lifetime mental illness. Police victimization was associated with suicide attempts but not suicidal ideation in adjusted analyses. Specifically, odds of attempts were greatly increased for respondents reporting assaultive forms of victimization, including physical victimization (odds ratio = 4.5), physical victimization with a weapon (odds ratio = 10.7), and sexual victimization (odds ratio = 10.2). Assessing for police victimization and other violence exposures may be a useful component of suicide risk screening in urban US settings. Further, community-based efforts should be made to reduce the prevalence of exposure to police victimization.

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This study was supported by an intramural research grant from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (principal investigator: Jordan DeVylder). The funder had no role in the conduct of the study or dissemination of the results. Jordan DeVylder, University of Maryland School of Social Work, had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

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Correspondence to Jordan E. DeVylder.

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DeVylder, J.E., Frey, J.J., Cogburn, C.D. et al. Elevated Prevalence of Suicide Attempts among Victims of Police Violence in the USA. J Urban Health 94, 629–636 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-017-0160-3

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  • Suicide
  • Violence
  • Aggression
  • Epidemiology
  • Sexual assault
  • Police abuse