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Newtown shooting: A proactive approach to counter mass shootings

As I watch the response to the Newtown shooting, I grow even more frustrated

As an American citizen I am embarrassed at what our society has become. As a lawman I feel responsible for the many men, women, and children we’ve failed to protect who died at the hands of mass murderers.

As I watch the response to the Newtown shooting I grow even more frustrated. The focus now appears to be on gun control, arming teachers and providing trained security in schools. My frustration comes from knowing that these measures are reactive and not proactive. These two measures alone will not stop or prevent the amount of mass shootings that is occurring the United States.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong advocate of increased security in our schools and opposed to gun control. Until we become proactive to mass shootings we will always need a great reactive response. Gun control and a well-prepared militia are reactive in nature. Those two measures will surely have some effect and will most likely save lives, but they aren’t the cure for preventing mass shootings.

Fighting Domestic Terrorism
The following is my response to mass shootings and a proposed proactive approach to the largest challenge that American law enforcement faces.

The year 2003 brought us the Department of Homeland Security. It’s mission to protect the United States from another terrorist attack using a concerted effort of 187 different federal agencies. This effort has for the most part provided the safety that we expect from terrorist attacks on our soil.

It’s time that we take the same approach to mass shootings as we did after 911. Why can’t the Department of Homeland Security focus on mass shootings, which is domestic terrorism, like they have for international terrorism?

Imagine if all the great resources from law enforcement such as Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), International Law Enforcement Education & Trainers Association (ILEETA), National Alliance of Mental Illness, American Federation of Teachers, came together with mental health scholars, law enforcement topic experts, and the 187 agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a concerted approach to mass shootings in the same manner the DHS did after 9/11.

The fact is DHS has done a fantastic job thwarting terrorism since 9/11 and if they were able to concentrate their current resources along with the many resources I mentioned — as well as many I didn’t mention — I believe we would get real results combating and preventing the growing numbers of mass shootings in the USA.

Changes in Our Society
My research of mass murders brings me to the conclusion that there isn’t one single issue that causes the mass murder to engage in such carnage. Many issues have brought us to this point in my opinion.

A major culture shift has occurred over the past 50 years and you can only wonder if that shift has contributed in the decay of morals in our society.

Violence on the television, movies, and video games is greater than ever. Does this violence desensitize our children? The news media (and its sensational reporting of mass murders) glorifies these horrific events in the minds of unstable and mentally-ill persons.

I watched one media outlet open a nightly news story on the Aurora (Colo.) mass shooting with the opening line — complete with a vile photo — calling the shooter “The Bat Man Murderer.”

Perhaps this could also be a motivating contributor to the mentally ill person fantasizing about such horrific deeds. These factors and others I didn’t mention are not responsible for the increase in mass murders but do they contribute?

Cops Are Frustrated
Police in most jurisdictions respond to calls dealing with mentally ill persons daily. The sobering reality is that unless a person is clearly homicidal or suicidal cops can’t do a thing with that person.

Recently, LAPD officers arrested a 24 year old man for making on line threats to carry out an attack like the one in Newtown on several local elementary schools. LAPD seized 9 guns from the suspect but the District Attorney’s office had no choice but to decline filing charges because the suspect’s threats were too vague. Could it be that handcuffing law enforcement may be another contributing factor in this massive problem?

Looking at the data from mass shootings from 2007-2012 it’s very clear that the inability of society and law enforcement to identify and manage its mentally unstable is in my mind the biggest of all the contributing factors.

What is Deinstitutionalisation?
Deinstitutionalisation began in the early 1970’s and the objective was to replace long stay psychiatric hospitals with other means such as shorter stays at community mental health services that are less isolated and the treatment of patients with modern medication.

Some psychiatrist like Leon Eisenberg feel that Deinstitutionalisation has been an overall benefit for most psychiatric patients however, many are left homeless without care (Eisenberg, Leon; Guttmacher, Laurence (August 2010). “Were we all asleep at the switch? A personal remininscence of psychiatry from 1940-2010”).

Would this mass murder problem exist if the mental institutions were available like they were prior to the 1970s? This topic is too complicated to discuss in this article but you have ask the question, could this be another contributing factor? Could the various mental health organizations and professionals contribute to a concerted effort to fight the mass murder problem? Why can’t we identify those individuals with mental illness that may be a threat to society? If we did could we prevent them from committing mass shootings?

Cutting Costs
I’ve read articles recently where Chiefs of Police from various cities are stating they are reallocating their police resources back in the schools as a result to the Newtown shooting.

Many agencies during the past several years have been forced to abolish their school resource officers, D.A.R.E. programs and D.A.R.E. officers due to budget cuts.

When do we stop putting a price tag on safety? It’s pretty obvious that uniformed officers in schools to some degree provide greater safety to our children. Perhaps this is a contributing factor also?

The following are some of the mass shootings that have occurred since 2007. These incidents have become more frequent and deadlier in past five years.

Mass Shootings in the United States, 2007 – 2012

Newtown (Conn) — 27 Dead
Oak Creek (Wis.) — 6 Dead
Aurora (Colo.) — 14 Dead
Oakland (Calif.) — 7 Dead
Tucson (Ariz.) — 6 Dead
Hartford (Conn.) — 9 Dead
Appomattox (Va.) — 8 Dead
Carthage (N.C.) — 8 Dead
Santa Clara (Calif.) — 6 Dead
Fort Hood (Texas) — 13 Dead
Binghamton (N.Y.) — 13 Dead
Samson (Ala.) — 10 Dead
Covina (Calif.) — 9 Dead
Algec (Wash.) — 6 Dead
Omaha (Neb.) — 9 Dead
Blacksburg (Va.) — 32 Dead

Action, Without Political Rhetoric
It’s time for this country to develop a strategy that will be effective in stopping this horrific problem. It must be attacked with a concerted effort of many disciplines, agencies and professions from a centralized body.

I recommend that if you agree with my assessment — and if you can add more insight to this message — that you contact your Senators and demand that Congress take swift action that will develop a real strategy like they did after 911 so we get real results.

Glenn French, a retired Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 24 years police experience and served as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and supervisor of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 16 years SWAT experience and also served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.

Contact Glenn French.