In response to the fact that many people noticed Jared Loughner’s odd behavior before the Tuscon shootings:
Republican Rep. Chip Limehouse of Charleston said he doesn’t want similar reports of odd behavior to go unnoticed.
“My legislation would require South Carolina colleges and universities to turn over their records concerning behavioral problems where warning bells are going off,” Limehouse said. The records would have to be turned over to local police agencies.
“This is a lot more benign than being on a do-not-fly list. This is not impugning someone’s rights in any shape or form,” Limehouse said. And states already have other protections to prevent crimes in their laws, such as sex offender registries, he notes.
Despite Limehouse’s reassurances, I’m still skeptical. Turning over these records to the police may not infringe on anyone’s rights, but it would strike yet another blow at our privacy. In an age where Facebook, TSA, and the federal government are all gaining more and more information about our private lives, I’m not too eager to add the South Carolina police force (or any police force, for that matter) to the list. Simply having that list in place creates incentives to abuse it. If you give a group of policemen the task to identify and keep tabs on the crazies, they’ll expect to see people who fit the bill, even when not too many people do.
The comparison to sex offender registries isn’t persuasive, either. In some cases, prostitution and public urination can land you permanently on a sex offender registry. It doesn’t seem right to me to saddle these people with the same label and restrictions as someone who commits a violent sexual crime. In the same way, I would worry that it would be all too easy to identify perhaps eccentric but perfectly harmless people as having “odd behavior,” suddenly making them suspicious people on a police list they didn’t belong on in the first place.
I should be clear that I’m not trying knock the police here; I just think there are safer and better ways to prevent crimes like Jared Loughner’s. You’ve probably heard of them by now: mental health care reform and gun law reform are the big ones. While mentally ill people aren’t violent, and while you can’t stop all the Jared Loughners of the world, enacting the above reforms would still help us to prevent another Tuscon without infringing on anyone’s privacy.
(Photo by sxc.hu)