Another mass murder resulting the usual running off in all directions. Ban the type of weapon used. No fortify and arm the schools. Someone dropped the ball. What we seem to overlook is normal people don’t commit mass murderer. Abnormal people do. Further, in most cases the perpetrators have exhibited behaviors that gave us clear indications they were capable of acts most wouldn’t even entertain. What we don’t have is a method to connect the dots necessary to prevent them from acting. Millions of people watch “Criminal Minds” a TV series that follows a team of FBI profilers tracking down people who commit horrific crimes. The idea is to use characteristics to create a profile of the criminal in order to make an identification. In other words, mass murders have a different set of traits that set them apart from the general populace. Indeed, if you went to the FBI and asked them for a general profile of those capable of mass murder they could provide it. What is needed is a way to reverse the procedure of using the profile to catch the bad guys after the committing of crimes to a way to fill in the profile before the crimes take place.
The FBI with a comprehensive profile based on the idiosyncrasies of mass murderers refined and combined with a super data collection system would give us the basis to identify them before they act. We already have tip lines but these would be far more effective with a questionnaire filling in the blanks on a profile. Extended to the internet, someone who sees abnormal behavior such as cruelty to animals could log on to the FBI tip site and find the questionnaire to be filled out. A person conflicted by what they had observed would see cruelty to animals is something needed to be reported. The questionnaire could alert observers to the kinds of behavior we need to know about. At the same time they would be assured the information provided would be correlated with other reports. This is where big data comes in. With the proper algorithms all reports would be in one place to be aggregated and ranked.
Besides the “see something, say something” folks, institutions would be required to add their observations especially if they resulted in some action. If you drum someone out the military or a school it has to be added to the data base. This is especially true if violence or the threat of violence was involved. Run-ins with law enforcement that provides the type of knowledge solicited by the questionnaire must be added. Doctor-patient and attorney-client relationships of course, would still retain their current protections. As the data wouldn’t ever be shared with other prospective employers certain ant-social behaviors resulting in suspension or termination must be reported. A single firearm purchase needn’t be reported, but multiple purchases must be. The FBI professionals will apprise us of what they need to know and from where to make an effective questionnaire.
The point of all of this is to aggregate the data and rank people in order of risk. Because this all digital this would mean having a numerical value system. One or two minor reports probably wouldn’t add up to action but several reports from varied sources might complete the profile, bump up the score and require action. This would put law enforcement in position to utilize their resources on the greatest risks. The profiles should start at the earliest possible age so teachers, neighbors and others that interact with kids need to report abnormal actions and behaviors. Earlier is much better in finding the dangerous. The beauty of the profile is we can publicize the signs we’re looking for. The questions of what to report and where would be answered. No longer will we hear the lament there were all these signs but we didn’t connect the dots or we can’t investigate everything so we don’t investigate anything.
Having the means to assess the greater risks is only half the battle. Laws will need to be updated to take advantage of the “Profile.” This portrait represents our very best judgement to predict an imminent crime. A strong profile based on a high numerical value should be considered the basis for probable cause. A judge then could take sensible actions such as order immediate addition to the no fly list, no ability to buy firearms, any firearms already possessed put in protective custody, immediate psychiatric evaluation, issuance of search warrants, a check of all recent purchases and acquisitions and examine the individual’s computer history. If the evaluation shows the individual is a danger to others or oneself actions and restraints must be in place to protect into the future.
Some might question the need for all these actions. Why not just prevent the individual from getting a firearm? From the profile we may know of an imminent desire to inflict great pain to others but not always the method. Turning up things such as firearms, bomb making equipment, certain chemicals and drugs, a number of pressure cookers or even fertilizer could give us the answer. We all know the horrors of a weaponized plane. Some of the greatest mass killings were accomplished without firearms. One with the demented will to commit mass murder will find a way.
The computer search could shed further light on motives and means. Just as important is it might lead to co-conspirators or liked minded people. We need to know which websites fed the person’s anger and illness. Maybe we can fill in more profiles and prevent other tragedies.
The whole idea is to isolate the very few that would even entertain the idea of mass murder while leaving the rest of the populace alone to enjoy their lives. Remember a perpetrator of one of these horrors such as Nickolas Cruz made their profile by their own actions and behavior. This just connects the dots and gives us a better chance at prevention and putting the suspect under the proper care. The algorithms used have to exclude contributors with bad intent or bots planting false information. Proper penalties for planting false information should be place. Remember the Judge in granting the search warrants and evaluation can use the profile as a basis for probable cause but the judge doesn’t have to grant them. We as a free people are always in the business of balancing rights and we think this gives us the best chance to find potential mass murders before they can act with the least amount of damage to the rights of others.
How would this have worked in the recent Parkland, Florida mass murder? Possibly neighbors and others observing Cruz’s anti-social behavior would’ve logged on the Tip site or called the Tip line. The questionnaire would’ve been filled out and simultaneously added to his profile. In any case the school, police, child services and his teachers and coaches would’ve been required to file questionnaires. Those that gave the tips of actual threatened violence would’ve added their questionnaires and info to the profile. No doubt a profile requiring action would’ve been produced.
All the info for an actionable Profile was out there well in advance of the act. Cruz was kicked out of school, had multiple run-in with police, was observed doing violence towards animals, was the subject of tips to hotlines, suffered the loss of his parents and on and on. It was all there but not in a single place where it would elicit action. Had this system been in place we would’ve used our best knowledge to recognize the danger and have had the best odds of preventing the tragedy. It would’ve prompted an immediate investigation. The profile would’ve allowed a judge to grant any warrants needed and order his evaluation. His firearms would’ve been put in protective custody. We would’ve had time to determine what to with Cruz. Instead, seventeen are dead, many more injured and while Cruz’s isn’t dead his life is effectively over. Getting to these very troubled people before they act not only would save others from death and mayhem, but maybe save the would be perpetrators from themselves. If a potential perpetrator shows up at the site of the planned havoc with a firearm(s) of any type with whatever accessories, a bomb, a big truck loaded with explosives or not, pressure cookers or any other deadly instrument, the odds are we have already lost the battle. A strong first line of defense is far better than just relying on an iffy or non-existent last line. This is why our profile plan is worth a try. Lives depend on it.