Published from criminal justice class paper.
The horrific case of the 2014 Isla Vista killings stemmed from the lead up of criminal actions taken by Elliot Rodger, a 22-year old college dropout who lived in Isla Vista, California. His psychotic nature, haphazard rapes and vengeful killings were reported on nearly every news media in the country. Since then, his insane motives and the police’s response have come under the public's scrutiny. Even the popular TV series "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (SVU) based an episode on Rodger’s bloodthirsty war on women. The SVU episode, analysis reports and media coverage all question the lack of police awareness and the forms of immediate action taken in response to the telling signs of Rodger’s mental instability and violent attack.
The police found crucial, publicly available evidence after it was too late.
Unlike the dramatized SVU episode, the actual rapist and killer Elliot Rodger died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Moreover, his manifesto totaled around 141 pages of premeditated plans of rape and murder, suspicions of which were further upheld by his montage of YouTube videos where he, like his parody TV character Holden March, laments the fact that women do not appreciate his self-assessed superiority over other men due to his "gentlemanly nature." Rodger often videotaped his reactions to watching couples, with one particular video titled, “Spring break sucks when you’re lonely,” in which he said, “My reaction to seeing a couple at the beach…envy.” If the signs weren’t clear then – as they were to even Rodger’s friends, family, and therapist who could also watch the videos – then his 137-page autobiographical essay which outlined his motives, his YouTube video titled “Retribution,” or the fact that he had been involved in countless fights (from conflicts with his parents, roommate, and random people at parties) should have raised warning flags.
But all this escaped the police’s notice until it was too late.
By the time the deputies searched Rodger’s room (a search that was considered illegal according to Isla Vista Mass Murder investigative summary) and found a horde of weapons, Rodger had already fired off 55 bullets with a trunk-load of guns left.
The police were unable to properly assess Rodger's mental and emotional stability.
The deputies first met
with Rodger on April 30 at his mother’s request and reported, “There was
nothing during the contact with [Rodger] that gave the deputies reason to
believe he was a danger to himself or others.” Had the police even googled the
disturbing videos Rodger’s mother had told them about, they would have found he
was, indeed, very homicidal and suicidal in nature. This most
certainly does raise questions regarding the lack of police concern to follow
through, but it also highlights the misunderstandings associated with the
police in general. While the police are essentially citizens and thus, can pick
up on abnormal behavior like the average citizen may be able to, they are not
free to do so as the average citizen. Not only do officers face the physical,
mental, and emotional strains of their everyday job on a daily basis, but they
are also often called to perform jobs that are not outlined in their job
description – roles such as that of handymen or in Rodger’s case, counselors.
In most cases, officers are not trained to counsel the mentally ill or unstable.
There are a few, vague protocols regarding police interaction with physically and mentally disabled individuals, and thus, officers who do respond appropriately are either lucky that their method worked out or have prior experience they gained before or while on the job. Officers who do not respond in what the public deems an appropriate manner are officers who have erred, mainly because they do not have training in regards to this field. The general population undeniably discriminates against individuals with mental illnesses, and “survey responses indicate that police officers are a significant source of stigmatization and discrimination against persons with mental illness,” as well.
Officers, just like citizens, do not have advanced guidelines or training as
psychiatrists do that detail how one should approach and interact with
individuals who have mental illnesses, let alone those with psychotic
disorders. Rodger’s own hoist of therapists appear to have made little progress
over the years in calming his narcissistic and vendetta against women. The
police can be held accountable for not following through with Rodger’s mother’s
concerns about her son’s videos, but even so, it is understandable why they did
not follow through because they, like everyone else around Rodger, did not
think he was an actual risk.
But the police still could have detained Rodger if they had used discretion.
Predictive policing, which uses data to react to incident and patterns as well as predict them in order to take preventive or preemptive action, argues that the police should have arrested – or at the very least detained – Rodger based on his motives alone. Although the police were late on catching up with Rodger’s vicious motives and long-term misogynistic beliefs, they did take immediate action in searching his room (albeit, illegally) and attempting to corner him in Isla Vista. However, after the chase and discovery of Rodger’s dead body, the police faced another charge: their ignorance of Rodger’s gun purchases.
The Isla Vista report’s timeline revealed that there were 14 separate incidents which indicated Rodger’s preparation for his shooting spree, starting two years ago when “he spent nearly $2,500 between December 2012 and March 2013 purchasing guns and ammo from stores in Burbank, Goleta and Los Angeles.” Then in January 2014, a few months prior to the attack, Rodger became a regular visitor of gun ranges in Oxnard and neighboring areas, loading up on ammunition purchases in March. “This activity indicates the suspect was ‘ramping up’ in the planning and rehearsing stages prior to committing the crime on May 23, 2014,” the report said.
Rodger’s purchase of three guns would have been available in law enforcement databases, but “law enforcement experts said most departments don't have explicit rules requiring officials to check gun registration when officers perform welfare checks. That decision, they said, is often left to the discretion of officers.”
Sherriff Bill Brown acknowledges these errors and how this plays into the gun control debate.
The police’s failure to follow through in conducting a background check on Elliot Rodger – from simply checking out his YouTube videos and pulling up his gun purchases – may have prevented the rapes, crimes, and killings from even taking place.
The public scrutiny also shifted to gun shops, lauding particular criticism on laid-back gun laws and lax background checks. In the introduction to the Isla Vista report, Sherriff Bill Brown writes: “In California, we have some of the strongest gun control laws in the nation, yet in this case the suspect was still able to legally purchase and possess three handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.” The sheriff’s acknowledgement of the fact further spurned public uproar over gun laws, and cases like these continue to do so today. Society’s rejection of guns sounded out loud and clear through some voices in the Democratic Party.
Guns were a hot-topic at the 2016 presidential debate and are expected to remain as such until a mutual resolution can be found. Whether it’s tighter restrictions on gun shops, specialized focus and care of the mentally ill, or a special watch kept on those suffering from psychotic disorders, the resolution is expected to be as complex, expansive and interlinked as the problem is itself.