Thesis focuses on police shootings

October 07, 2004, vol. 31, no. 3
By Marianne Meadahl

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Rick Parent broke new ground with his research on police use of deadly force, and a related phenomenon now known as suicide by cop.

His study, which led to a master of arts in criminology, focused on police shootings in B.C. His latest work - which has earned him a PhD - examines police use of deadly force in North America.

Parent found that at least one third of police shootings that occur across the continent are precipitated by the victim - individuals who are typically predisposed to suicide or mental illness, and in a calculated and deliberate manner, have forced a police officer to use potentially deadly force.

The veteran Delta police sergeant's PhD research is based on examinations of more than 400 police shootings in Canada and more than 400 others in the U.S. between 1980 and 2002. Police use of deadly force is rare in B.C., and while the number of incidents is far greater south of the border, Parent found the dynamics of police shooting incidents are often identical.

Parent also interviewed police officers involved in the use of deadly force, and prison inmates who survived police shootings. His dissertation contains the most comprehensive analysis of police use of deadly force conducted in Canada, says SFU criminology professor Simon Verdun-Jones.

As a result of his studies, Parent advocates the need for alternative methods of controlling violent or potentially violent suspects, including the use of Taser guns and other alternatives to traditional firearms.

“Training of police should continue to emphasize non-violent strategies in dealing with individuals who are suicidal, intoxicated or mentally ill, in order to reduce the likelihood that an encounter will lead to death by legal intervention,” he says.

Several hundred copies of Parent's earlier thesis have been distributed to police agencies throughout the world. Its focus became the topic of several television and radio programs, including CBS's The Pubic Eye, and newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post. Parent has also given presentations of his research throughout Canada and the U.S., including the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Parent, who receives his doctorate during SFU's morning convocation ceremony Oct. 7, continues to be frequently sought out by the media as well as the courts as a leading expert in the field.

With 25 years under his police belt, Parent plans to continue his work in the field and currently coordinates a team of five Delta police officers who specialize in crisis intervention and negotiation.

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