Dissertation

Master of Arts Thesis: 

"Aspects of Police Use of Deadly Force In British Columbia - The Phenomenon of Victim-Precipitated Homicide" (1996).

Ph.D. Dissertation: 

"Aspects of Police Use of Deadly Force In North America - The Phenomenon of Victim-Precipitated Homicide" (2004).

 

ASPECTS OF POLICE USE OF DEADLY FORCE IN NORTH AMERICA: 

THE PHENOMENON OF VICTIM-PRECIPITATED HOMICIDE

ABSTRACT

 

The purpose of this dissertation is to study and examine the underlying reasons for police use of deadly force and potential deadly force, in the United States of America and Canada, during the period from 1980 through 2002. Within this context, the phenomenon of victim-precipitated homicide, also known as “suicide-by-cop,” is examined. 

The reader is first introduced to the various legal and policy provisions that exist within Canada and, the United States of America that control and regulate police use of deadly force. The reader is then provided with a review of the literature surrounding the explanations and predictors of police use of deadly force. Within this context, the dissertation also explores those theories that serve to explain the changing patterns of extreme violence and suicide within society. The methods utilized to obtain and discern the data for this dissertation are provided. This is followed by a “findings and interpretations” section of the dissertation. 

This dissertation analyzes 843 separate documented incidents where police personnel, within Canada (n=409) and the United States of America (n=434), have discharged their firearms typically while facing a lethal threat. In 417 of these incidents, the police have responded by discharging their firearm and killing a total of 419 people. The remaining cases that were examined reflect incidents in which police personnel responded with less-lethal force. 

Through the examination of police investigations, Coroner and Medical Examiner records, government data and, interviews with police officers and prison inmates, this dissertation reveals that, in roughly a third of the cases examined (n=273), police officers reacted to a lethal threat of victim-precipitated homicide. These are incidents in which an individual, who is typically predisposed to suicide, mental illness or irrational behaviour, has in a calculated and deliberate manner forced a police officer to use potentially deadly force. 

In addition, this dissertation reveals the link between the phenomenon of police assisted suicide and the phenomenon of suicide as a result of police intervention. The latter one refers to instances in which an individual predisposed to suicide has suddenly taken his or her own life upon the intervention by police. 

The Issue of Suicide and Depression  

It was noted that in several incidents (Canada n=53, USA n=42), the police shooting encounter appeared to be a classic case of “suicide-by-cop.” These are instances in which an individual confronted the police officers with the intent on being killed. This conclusion is based upon circumstances that indicate that the individual was attempting suicide prior to the police arrival. In some instances, the individual took their life during the police encounter resulting in an act of suicide during police intervention. The linkage between instances of the phenomenon of police assisted suicide and the phenomenon of suicide as a result of police intervention is discussed further in this chapter. 

Typically, these individuals had cut their wrists and had made suicidal statements causing friends and family members to summon the police. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving at the scene of the distraught person, police personnel were attacked by the suicidal assailant in a kamikaze manner. The assailant, armed with a knife or other sharp object, would charge police personnel ultimately resulting in their death or wounding. 

In other instances, the individual confronted the police with an imaginary or perceived deadly weapon. This would include placing a loaded weapon against their head and in some cases, making suicidal statements. At times, the despondent individual was heard by police and independent witnesses to state words to the effect of “Shoot me, Kill me, I wish to die” as they confronted the police. In all of these cases the individual displayed characteristics associated with suicidal ideation.

Irrational Behaviour and Mental Illness 

In several incidents (Canada n=67, USA n=71), the shooting encounter was attributed to an individual displaying “irrational behaviour” and acting in a life-threatening manner. In a number of cases, police personnel were requested by members of the public to respond to reported observations of irrational behaviour. In these incidents, individuals were observed by the public to be acting in an irrational and often dangerous manner, threatening the lives or property of others. In most of these incidents, it is uncertain as to why the individual was behaving in this manner. In some cases, the individual was under the influence of alcohol or a drug. 

During the shooting incident, the individual would typically confront the police officer with a weapon in a threatening manner, refusing commands to disarm. At times, the weapon used by the assailant was a “non-firearm,” and inferior to the issued firearm that was in possession of the attending police officer(s). Why these individuals confronted police personnel in a threatening manner is unclear. In other instances, (Canada n=27, USA n=13), the police shooting encounter was attributed to an individual suffering from some type of mental illness. Interestingly, many of these cases occurred in a prominent public place.

Fleeing from the Scene of a Crime: Resisting Arrest 

In several instances (Canada n=210, USA n=218) police personnel were responding to a routine or possible crime occurrence call when they suddenly and unexpectedly encountered a criminal who was in the process of committing a serious crime or attempting to flee the scene. As Table 5 notes, in the majority of instances that resulted in a police shooting, the initial police response was in regards to a “crime in progress”. Upon seeing police personnel arrive at the scene of their crime, the suspect typically confronted the officer(s) with lethal force or grievous bodily harm causing the officer to respond to the threat with their issued service firearm. 

Rick Parent, Ph.D.