There was a kind of inefficiency, a vagueness. Colorado appears to have had a self-doubting system with no safety net that might have stopped James Holmes from walking, fully armed, into a movie theatre in Aurora and shoot people indiscriminately. The warnings were there. No one at his university appeared to be willing to make a decision. A gentle hands-off regard for ... personal liberty? "not our responsibility"? ... held sway.
... The biggest news in the case didn't come from the e-mails. 7News in Denver reports that six weeks before the shooting Dr. Lynn Fenton, a University of Colorado psychiatrist treating Holmes, called a university police officer and said she was concerned because Holmes had been talking about killing "a lot of people." Sources say that Fenton asked the officer to run a background check, which revealed that Holmes had no criminal record. In a second call, the officer asked Dr. Fenton if she wanted Holmes to be detained for a 72-hour mental health evaluation. Fenton said Holmes had given notice that he was withdrawing from the university, so that wouldn't be necessary. ...Daily Intel
Given the holes in that safety net, though, it's curious to be told that treating crime as a public health issue may help law enforcement analyze "outbreaks" of murder in specific areas and "innoculate" areas to prevent the spread of homicide.
As a rule, we tend to associate murder with the behavior of individuals who behave in aberrational ways.
"We think of individuals who commit homicide as being unlike the rest of us," said April Zeoli, a public health researcher at Michigan State University's School of Criminal Justice. "They are crazy, or substance users, or had a bad childhood. There is some reason specific to the individual that they are committing homicide."
Zeoli recently decided to test that theory using the lens of public health research: When scientists study the outbreak of an infectious disease like AIDS or the flu, they don't ask what it is about specific individuals that made them sick. They look for broader patterns, knowing that illness in any individual stems from a process of contagion.
Along with colleagues Jesenia M. Pizarro, Sue C. Grady and Christopher Melde, Zeoli asked whether homicide might follow the same principles of contagion.
"We looked at homicide as an infectious disease," Zeoli said in an interview. "To spread, an infectious disease needs three things: a source of the infection; a mode of transmission; and we need a susceptible population."
The researchers studied every homicide that occurred in the city of Newark, N.J., over a period of a quarter century, from January 1982 to September 2007. In all, Newark had seen 2,366 murders in that period, a rate of homicide some three times as high as that of the general U.S. population.
The researchers tracked down the time and location of every single murder. They plugged the data into a software program that has previously been used to track infectious diseases: When you put in the geographical location and the time of infection of each victim of the infectious disease, the program creates a model that shows how the epidemic is spreading — and where it might go next.
"We hypothesized that the distribution of this crime was not random, but that it moved in a process similar to an infectious disease, with firearms and gangs operating as the infectious agents," the researchers wrote in a paper they published in the journal Justice Quarterly. ...NPR
So patterns of homicides and kinds of crime do mimic those of diseases -- taking hold of one area but not in another -- allowing researchers to anticipate where they'll turn up and when. "To use the language of infectious disease research, Zeoli said, once researchers figure out what makes some neighborhoods 'resistant' to homicide, despite having the same risk factors as areas with high homicide rates, policymakers could apply those insights to 'inoculate' other areas in order to prevent homicide from spreading."