AFTER SANTA BARBARA: WE CAN DO BETTER - AND WE MUST
The deadly consequences of failing to heed red flags for violence from young men known by their families to be psychiatrically unstable and dangerous are on tragic display in the May 23 rampage attacks that left six young men and women dead and 13 others wounded near the University of California Santa Barbara.
The parents of Elliot Rodger, 22, and a social worker alerted law enforcement that Rodger appeared to be a danger to himself and/or to others after he had posted disturbing videos on YouTube. But California law doesn’t allow private individuals to petition the court for an emergency evaluation. Even Rodger’s private mental health providers were excluded. When responding officers found Rodger shy but “polite” and “kind,” they were left without grounds for referring him to evaluation. That left his family without a means of intervening.
"Once again, we are grieving over deaths and devastation caused by a young man who was sending up red flags for danger that failed to produce intervention in time to avert tragedy," said Doris A. Fuller, executive director. "In this case, the red flags were so big the killer's parents had called police - a desperate step of last resort for any parent - and yet the system failed.”
Like every state, California has civil commitment laws designed as a last resort for intervening when qualifying people with mental illness are unable or unwilling to help themselves. Like the laws in nearly all states, California’s need improvement. In 34 other states, Rodger’s family would have been able to ask a court to order an emergency psychiatric evaluation. In California, they couldn’t.
"We cannot predict who will be violent, and we will never prevent all violence," said Fuller. "But that’s no excuse for disregarding the means we have available to reduce tragedy – and all the consequences of untreated mental illness.”
Fuller said these means include making sure treatment laws recognize the crucial role of families, teachers, colleagues, neighbors and other private citizens in identifying red flags for danger and then using the laws as they were intended – to protect the individuals suffering symptoms of untreated mental illness and those around them.