How does being an Authorised Firearms Officer (AFO), compared with unarmed police officer, affect decision making? (working Title)

Research Institution / Organisation

Canterbury Christ Church University

Level of Research


Project Start Date

June 2017

Research Context

‘Suicide by Cop’ (SbC) is a phenomenon where a vulnerable person with ‘lethality of means’ initiates self-destructive violent conduct; either deliberately or with indifference to the consequences, in order to compel police to use lethal force.

Police do not record a ‘near miss’ incident e.g. where officers de-escalate a situation therefore preventing a suicide or SbC; apart from an arrest report or a mental health assessment, no record is made. Likewise, academics “do not study non-events” and as these are disregarded in research criteria it creates a narrow understanding of the use of lethal force paradigm. The deficiency of quantifiable data from potentially fatal ‘near miss’ incidents, impacts any ability to measure the ‘restrained’ use of force. Consequently, there is a deficiency of quantifiable evidence to understand how some police shootings are avoided and an examination of effective police tactics used to prevent a fatal shooting.
Arguably, the 'lack of protection' for unarmed UK police officers creates an interesting paradox, as they have to adapt and utilise different methods to engage a potentially dangerous suspect.

At the interaction point, a subject’s vulnerability may be initially ‘hidden’ from responding officers, with behavioural risk factors increasing the complexity of the encounter. Arguably, ‘learning by mistakes’ indicates a lack of SbC evidence based research within a UK context. Although the SbC phenomenon is recognised by academics and police, it is not fully understood, placing responders in an almost impossible position with a limited range of tactical options. Developing SbC empirical research and examining police use of force on mentally ill subjects may increase understanding of the key risks; and within that context when shots are likely to be fired.

There are only two peer reviewed UK studies of SbC (Best and Quigley, 2003; Best, Quigley and Bailey, 2003) this proposal aims to develop upon this using notable US based SbC studies to enhance knowledge from a UK context and practitioners perspective. It aims to:-

  • Examining police use of force on mentally ill subjects to increase understanding of the key risks and within that context when shots are likely to be fired.
  • Use quantifiable data from UoF or potentially fatal occurrences to measure ‘near miss’ incidents to identify the impact or ability of the police to ‘restrain’ the use of force. 
  • Explore the unarmed policing paradox; as unarmed officers have to adapt and utilise different methods to engage a potentially dangerous suspect.

This project is supported by a  bursary from the Metropolitan Police Service.

Research Methodology

This mixed methods study aims to develop understanding regarding the UoF by police officers and specifically AFOs when dealing with a mentally ill person.

A QUAN(qual) explanatory sequential mixed methods design will be used, and it is a type of design in which qualitative and quantitative data are collected in sequence.

As the primary source of information for police UoF is published statistics relating to these interactions, the first phase and emphasis within this approach is the collation and analysis of quantitative data. The second phase collects and examines qualitative data, exploiting the results of the initial quantitative stage. In this approach, emphasis is given to the quantitative data which informs the compilation of survey or semi-structured interviews during the qualitative phase. The two methods create separate but linked data results. This research strategy is informative, as during the final phase it interprets data clarifying any quantitative results by using the qualitative data.

Quantitative- SPSS analysis of police incidents (published UoF data & permitted accessed data - size approx 72k entries)Qualitative - Case study analysis (relating to police firearms discharges 2007-date sample size-80,
Survey and semi-structured interviews size- unknown at this time.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

September 2019
Return to Research Map