Apparently a 24 year old graduate school drop out identified as James Holmes burst threw exit doors at a Colorado movie theater and began shooting patrons. Information remains elusive as to exactly what took place but I believe it isn't too early to talk about future prevention possibilities given the nature and scope of this tragedy.
Random acts of this type of violence are unfortunately not new. Norway was the recent site of another, even larger violent act by a lone individual. Stopping these acts of violence before they occur is obviously a high priority but limited resources and our American way of life are crucial variables in the equation. As a police psychologist with 14 years experience I can tell you we do a great job apprehending criminals and solving all sorts of crime after the fact but there is little we can do proactively to stop violence before it happens. We have limited resources as far as actual numbers of police officers go and the level of public restriction required, even if we did have the numbers of officers needed, would be paralyzing.
I can tell you from experience however that very few people capable of committing these types of acts are totally unknown. Someone always knows these people and knows about their behavior. The question is what do they do about it and who do they communicate it too.
5 Stages of An Active Shooter Police One
Our mental health laws prohibit the active sharing of relevant information and often work against successfully finding and intervening with these folks. Virgina Tech is but one of dozens of examples. The fact is that our mental health system is broken and it operates on policies and procedures that protect the interests of the mentally ill to a far greater degree than it protects society at large. Until major changes are made we can expect more of these horrific acts.
In the Village I work in we actively look for impaired folks and make sure they are receiving the help they need. This week alone we forcibly took two separate individuals for the health care they needed. In the process a loaded handgun was removed from one and 40 some additional weapons were eventually removed from his home; all legally obtained and stored.
Until such time as we fix the mental health system and make policies serve the needs of the mentally ill as well as society at large we will have more tragedy. In the two cases I spoke of above people knew and spoke up. They may have waited a bit longer than I would have liked but they did speak up and a crisis was averted.
It's time for people to trust their local law enforcement professionals to handle these situations proactively and not to wait until we have to clean it up after the fact. Parents, schools, friends and others can no longer turn a blind eye to or hide in denial from people they know who need help. If you see something, say something. It's that simple.