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April 01, 2013
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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Cops are experts at dealing with the dangerously insane

Cops tend to see truly crazy people in their one-percent moments, because we see them under stress, where they can’t keep up their mask of sanity

Every cop with a lot of patrol experience tends to develop a specialty. The specialty comes from getting more than your share of a certain type of call — domestic disturbances, bad crashes, and the like.

This specialty is the ability to accurately identify truly crazy people, those sometimes called "whack jobs" in everyday speak.

Like folks who put aluminum foil on their windows to block the gamma rays from alien spacecraft.

Ann Has a Way with Words
I got more than my share of such folks on the job, and a recent item by syndicated columnist Ann Coulter caused me to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned about these unique individuals.

Coulter wrote, and I quote:

“Since the deinstitutionalization movement got under way in the 1970s, the mentally ill remain mentally ill, but now instead of living in warm, safe institutions, they live out on the streets, in homeless shelters and in soup kitchens, or drift back to their helpless families, occasionally showing up in ‘gun-free zones’ to commit mass murder.

“After the slaughters at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colo., Tucson, Ariz., and Newtown, Conn., every sentient person knows we need to do something about institutionalizing the mentally ill and — at the very least — keeping guns out of their hands. That happens to be impossible right now. Involuntary commitments even for the severely psychotic went the way of vagrancy laws...

“Of course, the vast majority of mentally disturbed individuals are not dangerous. But looking at it from the other end, more than half of all mass murder is committed by the mentally ill...

“Liberals fear ‘stigmatizing’ the mentally ill more than they fear another mass murder.”

Ann has a way with words.

Crazy, Not Stupid
Most states have some form of short-term involuntary commitment law, allowing cops to cuff ‘em and arrange for 24-72 hours in a rubber room before some mental health person (working under contract) declares they are no danger to themselves or others.

Often, that brief stay in lock-up will cause them to fly below your radar for quite a while — maybe even forever.

These people are crazy, not stupid. Many of them are highly-intelligent people and they learn how to avoid police contact. Indeed, even those we involuntarily commit under today’s mostly-worthless statutes — the ones the mental health folks so readily release — rarely cause major problems again in their sad lives.

Most citizens (and cops, too) don’t understand that even the truly crazy ones seem sane 99 percent of the time. They often merely come off as “odd,” and “odd” won’t get you a free ride to the padded cell.

It is the one percent behavior we must watch for and ACT ON! Cops tend to see such people in their one-percent moments, because we see them under stress, where they can’t keep up their mask of sanity. Their space cadet terminology and voice inflection are unmistakable, but their eyes truly are the window into their souls.

One glance at their eyes often tells us all we need to know.

Virtually every active shooter in the last few years left behind numerous clues of their mental instability. Unfortunately, law enforcement is sometimes all too willing to simply “displace” the problem out of their jurisdiction.

The Tucson shooter was banished from the local community college for threatening behavior, but the intervention ended there.

In fairness to many police agencies, their state laws simply may not allow them to take more aggressive action.

Police Intervention
Here’s my prediction: Except in the most liberal states, the current push for new gun-control laws will largely fail. 

I think that sensible legislators may finally be able to modify mental health laws to address Newtown-style crazy people. Most states will grant us more latitude to haul in the ones who look (or sound) like they’re a few bricks short of a load. Even where the statutes don’t become cop-friendly, I think the tolerance for police intervention in the lives of these people will expand substantially.

The police profession must be willing to crawl out on the initially-shaky limb of intervention.

I believe we have prevented many mass killings already by hooking up those we can. We won’t get ‘em all, some will keep their masks up and not be detected. Bleeding-heart mental health counselors will still turn ‘em loose. But, we will sleep well knowing we did what we could.

Eventually, a Newtown-level mentally-ill individual will be hauled in for an Involuntary Commitment by a daring cop, released by a touchy-feely counselor, and will later snap and kill another school full of kids.

Then, we’ll get some laws with teeth.


About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

Contact Richard Fairburn





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