Palm Beach Sheriff Wants To Respond To Anonymous 'Suspicious Behavior' Reports

Jan 17, 2013

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is seeking funding for teams of social workers and deputies who can respond 24/7 to anonymous citizen complaints of suspicious behavior by others.

WATCHFUL EYES: The Palm Beach Sheriff's Office says citizen suspicions quickly reported may reduce acts of violence such as the school attack in Newtown.
Credit David Sillitoe/Guardian

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw's second-in-command, Chief Deputy Michael Gauger, announced the program at a community forum on Wednesday. He said early vigilance and quick response might have prevented the school shootings in Newtown. The Palm Beach Post was there:

Gauger said the office is in the process of creating five teams that will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to investigate residents’ concerns. Each team would include a social worker specializing in mental health, a case manager and a police officer, Gauger said.

After the shooting “the neighbors at Sandy Hook, said ‘We are not surprised,’” Gauger said tonight. “And you know what, nobody called.”

Mental health issues have been prominent in the post-Newtown discussion of how to prevent future mass killings by well-armed, unbalanced attackers.  But, as NPR reported Thursday after a survey of mental health professionals, there are concerns about putting too many people under suspicion when diagnosing the likelihood of violent acts is so difficult.

One reason even experienced psychiatrists are often wrong is that there are only a few clear signs that a person with a mental illness is likely to act violently, says Steven Hoge, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. These include a history of violence and a current threat to commit violence.

Without either of these, Hoge says, "an accurate assessment of the likelihood of future violence is virtually impossible."

"The biggest risk for gun violence is possession of a gun," says Hoge. "And there's no evidence that the mentally ill possess guns or commit gun violence at any greater rate than the normal population."

Going further to mobilize the power of community response, Deputy Gauger said the sheriff's office is developing another program to reward citizens who help recover guns that have been used in crimes.