From a reader:
Violence Risk Assessment: Safety vs. Liberty
These thoughts are a response to the recent school shooting in Broward County, FL. There is an issue of liberty that makes dealing with this situation a huge problem. So let us just imagine that someone ‘brings this guy in’ to talk about the youtube comment. They put that with all of the other contacts that the cops have had with him and realize he is a loose cannon. Then what? How do you propose that THE STATE respond?
Involuntary detention? For how long? For what SPECIFIC purpose? Current statutes say that if he is clearly suffering from a mental illness AND is imminently dangerous to himself or others, he can be held and involuntarily treated in a locked psychiatric facility. Of course many of you want to scream “Oh NOES! Psychotropics BAD!” and would not treat him. So then what? PERMANENT lockup? So someone’s fears lead to the removal of this individuals freedom / civil liberties?
‘But he is DANGEROUS’ and so this guy proved to be. What about the other hundred idiots that say this sort of thing but DON’T go on killing sprees? There are plenty of jerks on this site that make violent and threatening comments at times. So do you think they should get locked up? Where do you draw the line?
This is in the nature of man, and everyone tends to point fingers at the other guy. That may be fine if you simply choose to avoid that guy, but what if you want to restrict his liberty because of your fears? Isn’t this what the leftists are doing, want to take every man’s guns?
In the USSR they made use of psychiatrists to “diagnose” dissidents and lock the in their ‘psychiatric gulags’ which was in essence just a prison. If you don’t toe the party line, you get locked up. We hear the leftists continue to scream their desire to lock up people who oppose their views. There is so much discussion around here about the failure of the Constitution, or of the men responsible for upholding the Constitution, and yet there at least remain some elements of due process (obviously not always nor in every circumstance). Do you truly wish to further curtail civil liberties out of your fear of school shooters?
As our host can explain, the criminal justice system established a goal of preferring ten guilty men to walk free than one innocent man be incarcerated. Obviously this is a joke today, but just take this as a goal from the past. The legal standard in criminal trials is that the jury must find the defendant “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” which generally means >90% certainty. Otherwise they must acquit. In civil cases, the evidential standard is “the preponderance of the evidence” meaning 51%. It is a lessor standard because the idea of depriving someone of liberty has been viewed as a far greater intrusion than depriving someone of property.
Standards for involuntary psychiatric commitment are found in between these two. Courts have declared the standard to be “clear and convincing evidence” which is somewhere between the 51% and >90% for civil and criminal trials. The idea of taking someone’s freedom on a medical basis is viewed as greater violation than taking your property, but less than a criminal sentence. In theory, the psychiatric commitment is for a defined period of time or until the person is deemed no longer mentally ill and dangerous. In practice there are people who remain indefinitely committed due to perceived dangerousness.
Some years ago we began to understand that people who commit sexual crimes, ‘sex offenders,’ had very high rates of recidivism. Even after completing a criminal sentence they were still considered a high risk to repeat. And rightly so! Most people who commit murder do not ‘like’ killing people, it just happens in the heat of the moment or ‘as a part of doing business.’ So the recidivism in murder is quite low. But sexual offenders LOVE their crimes, they LIVE for the fantasies of both past and future offenses. To deal with this many states enacted ‘Sexually Dangerous Person’ statutes that allowed sex offenders to be locked up ‘for treatment’ after they completed their criminal sentence. This has been controversial because for many it turns into a life sentence in a secure psychiatric facility.
So with this information, let us return to the matter at hand. By what standard are you proposing to take away someone’s freedom, whether it be to buy/own a gun or simply the freedom to walk about in society? There are no perfect predictors of anything, especially human behavior. There is no “lab test” and even if there were, there are problems of false test values.
In medicine a “false positive” is a test that says you have the disease when you really don’t, and a “false negative” is a test that says you don’t have the disease, when actually you do. Labs set standards in an effort to try to optimize these values, but it cannot be done perfectly. So let us apply this to our goofy kid making threatening posts online. A “false positive” would be making the prediction that he WOULD commit a violent crime but in reality he never would or did. A “false negative” would be determining that he was NOT dangerous but he then went on to commit violence. The question is then asked: How do you set the standard for “locking up” potential mass murderers?
If you evaluate (do “the test”) in such a way that has a great many false positives, then far too many people are locked up who never would do violence. A real-world example of this might be the Social Services or Child Protective Services workers in your locale. Far too often they appear to remove children for little reason. Some of you have experienced this. So we don’t want this outcome.
But if there are too many false negatives, then the system is not ‘protecting’ us from the violent offender as he wasn’t detected. This maximizes liberty but increases your individual risk as a citizen.
Thus we arrive at the problem for a free society: do we wish freedom or security? Where do we draw the line? Who gets to make the choice?
Some years ago someone linked to an eye opening talk by Robert Higgs entitled “The State is Too Dangerous to Tolerate” which you can find here:
As I listened to him I understood quite clearly the point he was making and the application to such issues as the involuntary commitment of potentially dangerous people. There IS no perfect solution.
I am a Christian and see the world from a Biblical perspective. Mankind is fallen, we are rebels against God. The consequences of this are staggering, and such issues as safety vs. liberty can never be perfectly resolved. My hope is to help at least some of you to think more deeply about the issue of potentially dangerous people.