Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 4, 2014

Another View: Shooting interventions deserve more attention

Whenever there’s a mass shooting somewhere in the United States, it’s big news.

But what about those cases where intervention takes place with a mentally disturbed individual — who may be on a path to becoming a mass murderer — and no one dies as a result?

In these instances, there may be no publicity at all. However, this sort of incident may be extremely newsworthy, if a recent claim by the FBI holds water.

A special team within the FBI is being credited with becoming involved in the cases of nearly 150 mentally disturbed people this year, not to arrest them, but to see that they receive needed assessment and treatment.

All the cases are being described as “prevented” shootings.

The Behavioral Analysis Unit may not make a lot of headlines, but the work it does may prevent others.

The unit aids state and local officials in assessing individuals who may pose special threats because of emotional problems they suffer. Law enforcement, schools, businesses and churches all contact the Behavioral Analysis Unit when the actions or words of individuals raise particular concerns.

Most of the time, no arrests are made, because the people involved have committed no crimes. Rather, efforts are made to obtain mental health assessments and treatments for these individuals to help avoid violence.

We don’t know if the claims of 150 prevented shootings in the past year are valid, because it’s impossible to prove a negative. But we have no doubt that many of these people have emotional problems that could lead to the sort of violence that all too often shocks this nation.

It’s a difficult area, because the vast majority of people who suffer mental illness are not prone to acts of mass bloodshed. Strange behavior alone is not the test.

And there is no specific profile to absolutely identify the individuals who may initiate shooting sprees. Mental health experts can spot some warning signs, but it is not a precise science.

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