Victim Precipitated Homicide

What is really happening when police shoot and when police kill?

The split second it takes for a cop to squeeze a trigger is perhaps the most widely seen and least understood event of our time. Continuing research adds significantly to the understanding of what really happens regarding police use of deadly force.

Criminologist Dr. Rick Parent examines the phenomenon of victim-precipitated homicide, also known as suicide by cop. His dissertation, entitled "Aspects of Police Use of Deadly Force in North America: The Phenomenon of Victim-Precipitated Homicide" was conducted by the 30 year veteran of the Delta Police Department for a Doctoral degree in Criminology. Rick completed his Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University, School of Criminology, Burnaby, British Columbia.

Rick is a former police recruit instructor and currently an Assistant Professor at Simon Fraser University - Police Studies. He is continuing his research into the complex subject of police shootings.

His M.A. research (1996) analyses 58 documented incidents in B.C., from 1980 to 1994, in which police officers were confronted by a potentially lethal threat. In 27 of these incidents, police responded by discharging their firearms and killing 28 people. Roughly half of these cases are victim-precipitated homicide. In the remaining 31 cases, police responded with less lethal force. Rick's Ph.D. research (2004) analyses 843 documented cases in the United States & Canada where police have discharged their firearms typically while facing a lethal threat.

"In some of these cases, police were confronted in a calculated and deliberate manner by people who were suffering from one, or a combination of, suicidal tendencies, mental illness, and substance abuse." At times, victims cause or contribute to a police shooting intentionally or unintentionally provoking police, he adds. "In many cases, suicidal individuals have engaged in life threatening behavior in order to force the police to kill them."

Parent examined police investigations, coroner's inquests and government data. Most importantly, he interviewed prison inmates and police officers. "I focussed on their perception of how the perceived lethal threat unfolded before their eyes" he says. "Secondly, I asked that, as they faced it, what course of action did they take and why?"

Included in the study's framework were psychological, physiological, physical and emotional issues relating to critical incident stress and post-shooting effects. These are traditionally avoided during police investigations and in court, and go beyond the scope of typical police and coroner reports. "These incidents are tragic and emotionally traumatic experiences for police officers," he reports. "There is a real devastation that can affect the officer and his family, along with a myriad of other problems which are too often ignored. In the aftermath, police officers are frequently "victims" of the shooting process and that's vastly different from the common and casual, macho portrayal on TV and in movies."