On April 16th, 2007, the world was shocked by the senseless killing of 32 students and staff of Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI) by a fellow student named Seung-Hui Cho. His actions and subsequent suicide reignited questions on gun control measures countrywide and the ban of weapons on campuses. Public anger was targeted against the campus police and administration for what the public believed were security lapses on their part. The governor of Virginia State appointed a panel to investigate all aspects of the shooting.
VPI came under censure for not doing enough to keep Cho away from other students in light of his mental condition. However the blame for the incident was placed squarely on Cho as he failed to abide with the recommendation of the court which would have helped him recover from his condition. Profile of Seung – Hui Cho As a child, Cho was shy and withdrawn. He kept his emotions very much under control and to most people he was considered antisocial. Cho had been diagnosed as suffering from severe anxiety from an early age.
His condition was further complicated by selective mutism which caused him speaking difficulties. As a consequence of his speech challenges, the other students derided and bullied him thus contributing to his withdrawal from social activities (Golden, 2007-08-20). He operated as a loner and not much information was known about him or his friends. He received therapy for his condition in junior and middle school but opted to discontinue with the treatment later on in life. Early accounts of his childhood behavior reveal him to have been a bright child who did well in class and was popular with the other children.
The transformation to an angry man with suicidal tendencies and distorted thoughts occurred some where along his social development (Bartol, 1999). His anger was so extreme that one of his professors asked that he be removed from her class. He refused to attend therapy despite being advised to so on many occasions by his mentors. The shootings that he carried out were premeditated and carefully planned taking into consideration details concerning the thirty day window before buying a second gun.
Rejection by the females he was interested in fueled his feelings of unworthiness and caused him more frustration. Why did Cho gravitate towards criminal behavior? The reason for this change in him was brought about by his exclusion from mainstream society because of abnormalities that he had. The frustration he felt because of the response from the in-group towards his condition made him emotionally insecure (Bandura, 1977). Unloved and despised he developed his own coping mechanisms which were to respond with hostility and anger to any body from the in-group.
He had no out – group to socialize with as was the case in the Columbine Shootings otherwise he would have had an accomplice on the fateful day. Cho began to hate society in general but in particular those females who spurned his advances and those who ridiculed him for his speech challenges. Unable to develop a meaningful support system, he relied on other social deviants to be his role models (hence his admiration with the Columbine Shooting students). By identifying himself with Jesus Christ and believing that he was a messiah of sorts, Cho developed delusionary thoughts about who he was.
His loss of interest in class and antisocial behavior were common signs of some one with suicidal or destructive thoughts. At that point in life he had no cause for living and looked forward to his release from this world through death (Barlow, 2005). The Role of VPI Campus Police Department Campus police are primarily concerned with the safety and security of the student population and the members of staff. They aim to ensure that criminal acts are prevented from occurring and that action is taken to apprehend the perpetrators of a crime when it takes place.
Their roles include responding to cries of distress from any body on the campus and to take the necessary action to ensure that the situation returns to normality as soon as possible (PaperClip Communications, 2007). Campus police receive the same training as normal police offices and are thus well versed in matters of disaster response and first aid. Profiling of any sort is something they are exposed to. Cho had been cited twice for stalking females and been cautioned not to repeat the behavior.
Police procedure would have demanded a file be opened and any information about him properly documented. This would have required the cooperation of the administration so that private information about Cho could be put in the file. Based on the analysis of his personal profile, the police would have decided whether or not to put him on their watch list. Close supervision of his activities would have revealed his gun practice outings and alarming writings that would have warranted an administrative decision to revoke his admission at VPI.
The lack of coordination between the administration and the campus police contributed to the failure of both parties in identifying Cho as a potential threat to the security of the campus. While it may have required more intense observation of the shooter to accurately arrive at his next course of action, a report from the local authorities charged with reporting gun purchases would have alerted the police to what kind of plan Cho may have been contemplating. Consequently, the blame for the shooting lies with the State of Virginia’s poor enforcement of laws that allowed a mentally challenged person to buy a gun.
This incident seems to vindicate those who favor tougher laws regulating gun control and ownership. Further the fact that this purchase was not reported to the campus authorities shows that the agency conducting background checks was not performing its duties meticulously. The fact that a professor had complained about Cho’s behavior and requested he be withdrawn from her class was reason enough for the administration to put the campus police on alert. Cho should have been monitored more closely and any additional complaint form staff or students should have earned him an immediate expulsion.
The health bodies that were to handle his case should have taken up the task with more vigor so as to have rehabilitated him and prevented the tragedy from occurring. By setting him loose on society the judiciary must share part of the blame. It appears that the judge was not sufficiently apprised of the danger Cho posed to his fellow human beings. An exhaustive analysis of Cho’s mental condition should have been made and further incarceration ordered in the light of his record. Laws surrounding privacy seemed to have frustrated the efforts to have the various stakeholders arrive at an informed decision.
A relaxing of such laws or exceptions to them should be introduced so as to avoid a repeat of such cases. Shortcomings of the key players Profiling of individuals helps to place them in certain categories which identify the basic characteristics associated with that profile. Thus racial profiling may suggest that a black man outside a convenience store late at night might be planning a robbery. Despite the discriminatory nature of profiling, it assists the law enforcement officers to make arrests and in some cases prevent crimes. Similarly, profiling based on behavioral traits may identify potential criminals before they commit a crime.
By listing the behavioral traits of criminals, one can be able to pick out those individuals with a likelihood of committing a crime based on their behavior. Antisocial acts, being withdrawn, low self esteem, excessive anger and a tendency to associate with violence are some of the traits that criminals have. Poor support systems and delusionary thoughts contribute to an individual taking up destructive actions. The VPI police were more attuned to dealing with the normal cases of petty crime and harassment to have bothered with a potential case of a mass murderer.
A campus setting is not the most likely place to find a serial killer or a rapist. VPI police must have concentrated their efforts on maintaining the peace by dealing expeditiously with any cases of deviant behavior aimed at upsetting the student fraternity rather than profiling students with troubled pasts. This oversight is what led to their failure to notice the alarming trends in Cho’s behavior. It appears that the training they received did not include aspects of criminal behavior. Had they been adequately prepared for such eventualities, they would have identified Cho as a potential trouble maker and taken steps to monitor his behavior.
Training in criminal behavior would have helped the police to set up a unit to deal with profiling of suspected students in a bid to prevent any tragedy on the scope that occurred that day (Ellis, 2005). After discovering the two dead bodies the police should have advised all students and staff to take precautionary measures as the killer would still have been at large. As a further measure they should have insisted on checking the bags of any student entering any building to establish if they were carrying any dangerous weapons. The administration on its part should take the concerns of its teaching staff very seriously.
From the moment Cho was declared persona non grata in the professor’s class, urgent steps should have been taken to establish the nature of the complaint and whether it would have constituted a major threat to the security of the others members of staff and students. A hotline should be established through which students can report abnormal behavior by their colleagues and have the authorities investigate the claims with a view to taking the necessary action. This will help to identify those students with a potential for criminal behavior.
The administration needs to develop emergency measures to be taken in the event that such an incident occurs again. Armed police guards should patrol the grounds and each building should have an armed officer who will deal with such cases. If the police had been in place and armed, they would have confronted the killer and engaged him, thus reducing the collateral damage caused. Behavioral Studies in Campuses Profiling is one of the tools that the VPI police would have used to help them identify Cho as a problem student (Bartol, 1999). By identifying his characteristics, they would have placed him in category that fits his profile correctly.
Consequently they would have taken steps to contain any carnage that he would have planned by setting up surveillance around him. Further measures would include accessing the medical records of all students with mental challenges and determining the extent of the disorder ands the potential damage the student would inflict on their colleagues should the worst case scenario be taken. Such students should be closely observed and if there is any conviction that the person presents a threat to the society, their studies should be terminated forthwith.
Looking for clue in the student’s essays is another avenue for picking out potential threats to the campus fraternity. By advising teaching staff to forward all essays that contain an alarming reference to violence and death, the police will be able to analyze the thought pattern of the students in a bid to establish the severity of the threat. Recurring violence themes running through a student’s essays are a likely indicator that the student is planning to carry out a violent act (Rogers, 1957).
This will inform the police on the need to carry out searches of the student’s room and bags to determine if they are bringing any dangerous weapons to the campus. The police should also liaise with the local authorities to establish if the student has bought any weapons in the recent past and insist that he be blacklisted in the data bases so as to prevent him from accessing any guns. Questioning roommates of suspected trouble makers will help the police get more information concerning the behavior of the person under suspicion.
This exercise should be extended to the family members where important records concerning their child can be obtained. It will also help in that the police can raise their concerns with the parents and devise methods to deal with the crisis at hand. Some of the solutions may involve a temporary withdrawal of their child from the campus for treatment. Upon successful completion of the treatment the child can be readmitted to the campus without prejudice. In instances where the treatment is ineffective the student should be permanently removed from the campus to avoid problems arising in the future.
Counseling is another option open to the police. Having identified the student’s problem, the rest of the student population can be counseled on how they can assist their colleague deal with his condition. By being more sympathetic and caring, the student fraternity at VPI may have saved Cho’s life. If he had developed a good support system and had understanding friends that did not makes fun of him he may have become happier and more social. Thus as an intervention method, it is important for the staff and students to appreciate the disabilities of their colleagues and work towards making their lives more bearable rather than difficult.
Postmortem Had the VPI police identified Cho as a potential threat they should have placed him under close supervision. They may have insisted that he attends therapy for his condition as a prerequisite for continued attendance at the polytechnic. Cho should have been housed in special quarters where he could receive the necessary care and medication for his condition (Prochaska, 2007). If the situation was extreme then he should have been discontinued until a marked improvement in his condition was observed.
Close circuit TV should have been installed in all the buildings so that the police could monitor the activities taking place everywhere. This would have made it more difficult for anybody to perpetrate a crime and get away unnoticed. As a deterrent, this measure would have assisted greatly. Metal detectors ands physical searches should have been conducted on anybody leaving or entering a building. All exits and entrances should be monitored and the fewer the better. Police manning the checkpoints should be armed and trained to deal effectively with any threat to themselves or the campus population.
As a preventive measure the police should conduct training drills for polytechnic to prepare them for any eventuality. By simulating shooting sprees, grenade attacks and bomb explosions, they can prepare the students and staff about the best action to take when faced with such a crisis. In addition the police should partner with the administration and students to foster close relationships so that concerns like those of Cho’s roommates are reported to the police for necessary action. This will entail the police educating the students for what signs to look for in their colleagues and how to handle them if caught up in a precarious situation.
Once Cho began shooting the police should have created a distraction so that his attention was diverted. Such interventions can include the negotiations that take place in hostage situations. VPI police will need a trained negotiator who can talk people out of doing things they had planned to do. If the police knew Cho’s medical history a negotiator would have got to the scene quickly and began to convince him that the carnage was not right and that better alternatives could be found for his concerns. To deal with such case of student violence, more stringent security measures must be put in place (Vossekuil et al. 2002).
CCTV should be installed in all buildings and be security centre be manned 24/7. Strict rules on being inn possession of a weapon concealed or otherwise should lead to automatic expulsion of the offender. The administration should share student information with the police so that they can establish profiles for all the students based on criminal, medical or personal information. The profile database will enable the police to narrow down the potential trouble makers and monitor them closely for any disturbing developments.
The federal and state government’s should pass laws that make disclosure requirements more explicit and background checks more thorough before a gun can be sold to an individual. A waiting period of not less than one week should be imposed before a license can be issued to own a gun. This will allow for ample time for cross checking of an individual’s background before issuing a gun to him. Restrictions on the sale of guns should extend to students currently enrolled in learning institutions and heavy penalties imposed on gun dealers who break the law.
Teaching staff should also be trained on criminal behavior theory so they can identify students who fit the profile of a criminal (Turvey, 1999). This will help the police in their work as the teaching staff are closer to the students and interact with them more often. Further, nationwide campaigns should be held discouraging the use of violence and therapists employed by all institutions to deal with individuals that need counseling. The institutions should be mandated to commit a student to therapy where a professional view demands so. In the event that the student refuses to comply, automatic expulsion should be enforced.
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