Over the weekend, a nightmare was unleashed as a young man was shot and killed on an American interstate after a chase and standoff with authorities. This man, a national guard soldier, died at the scene. Upon first thought, one would assume there were drugs, felonies, or alcohol involved. In which there may have been but that is not where this story is heading.
The lonliness, desperation, the inabilty to reach out one more time, the family members state that this soldier had been suicidal in the past. What causes a soldier to become so despondent? Why would he engage in gunfire with police officers? Why? Over the next few days, all sorts of stories will come out of the woodwork. Everyone will have something to say about this soldier, but the voice that needs to be heard, is now silenced, forever.
Often the words, "we thought he would be okay" echo through the conversations after someone has taken their life. Granted, this death was not a suicide as it is normally defined, but when someone that has been suicidal, pulls a gun on police officers, shouldn't this be classified as the phenomenon of Victim Precipitated Homicide? Otherwise known as "Suicide by Cop", a method in which someone deliberately acts in a threatening way towards a law enforcement officer, with the goal of provoking a lethal response, such as being shot to death. Similar phrases include suicide-by-police, and officer- (or police-) assisted suicide.
Criminologist Dr. Rick Parent examines the phenomenon of victim-precipitated homicide in his dissertation, entitled "Aspects of Police Use of Deadly Force in North America: The Phenomenon of Victim-Precipitated Homicide". His previous research analyses 58 documented incidents 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. Parent's recent 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."
While this is speculation that this service member ended his life intentionally, it is not an uncommon situation. Suicides amongst returning vets are on the rise. Maintaining accurate numbers of suicides, as well as the phenomenon of victim precipitated homicides is crucial in calculating the casualties of war. Is this considered to be a casualty of war? Is it a byproduct of war? What are the answers? And most importantly, who is going to answer these questions?
Shelle Michaels, APR
VT Staff Writer
“It is our responsibility to help our soldiers and civilians understand how to identify at-risk individuals, recognize warning signs and know how to take direct action.”
General Eric K. Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff
About the Researcher: Rick Parent is a 25-year serving police officer in the Vancouver area and a former instructor at the Justice Institute of British Columbia – Police Academy. Rick holds a Masters degree and a Doctoral degree (Ph.D.) from Simon Fraser University, School of Criminology. His academic training and research has focused upon police use of deadly force including the phenomenon of “victim-precipitated homicide” and “suicide by cop”.
In September 1999, Rick provided a brief account of his research at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. In November 1999, Rick was awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Meritorious Service in recognition of the academic research that he has conducted in relation to police use of deadly force.
Rick has testified in court, as an expert witness in the area of police shootings. He has also provided expert opinion to attorneys in the United States and Canada in regards to fatal police shootings within their jurisdiction. In addition, he has provided assistance to police personnel investigating fatal and non-fatal police shootings in Australia, Canada, and the United States.
To access Rick Parent's research please go to: www3.telus.net/parent
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