The exact meaning of suicide by cop is unclear, but appears to include situations in which a suicidal individual pre-plans his or her death at the hands of a police officer, as well as other situations in which a despairing, desperate and/or agitated individual comes into contact with police officers and ends up being shot by the police officer. Even if certain individuals who are killed in an alleged "suicide by cop" police shooting planned to die in that manner, it appears that a whole lot of others are simply caught up in fleeting emotion-driven circumstances that will pass in a matter of minutes or hours or days. In this way, a police officer can actually be the catalyst to a life saved instead of a life taken.
One of the problems with the alleged "suicide by cop" theory of police shootings is that the term ascribes blame immediately to the victim, implies that the death was inevitable and discourages the kind of critical analysis needed to determine whether anything could have been done differently by the police officer to save the life. If police officers received better training in crisis intervention, communication, tactical maneuvers designed to give someone space without jeopardizing officers or others, use of non-lethal weapons, and viewing use of deadly force as an absolute last resort to be employed when absolutely necessary instead of simply convenient -- then we can hopefully reduce if not eliminate the number of suicide by cop police shootings.
The LAPD's Inspector General recently released a report in which the IG reviewed 35 LAPD police shootings during a 30-month period that had features of "suicide by cop" police shootings. The Inspector General did not purport to critically evaluate any of these suicide by cop shootings and determine whether the police officers involved should have behaved differently, but instead the IG focused on identifying "recurrent incident features associated with suicide-by-cop incidents."
Clearly the LAPD Inspector General understands that these police shootings raise significant questions as well as lawsuits. The report does not go so far as to suggest alternative ways LAPD officers might approach such situations, but it does appear to contemplate the reality that police officers are not always unwitting pawns of others (who have "no choice" but to shoot and kill) but are autonomous individuals capable of exercising judgment and potentially influencing an outcome: "The recognition of these features, alone or in combination, when they are discernible to responding officers, has the potential to alert officers to the suicidal intent of a subject they encounter and to enable them to factor the subject's suicidal objective into their decision-making process."