Can Experts Spot Lawbreakers Early


Can Experts Spot Lawbreakers EarlyCan experts predict and prevent crime? Two articles in today’s Washington Post raise some provocative questions about who is likely to break the law and what preventive steps should be taken.

The first article, “The U.S. Military Doesn’t Know Who Is Fit to Fight,” argues that the military needs better screening methods for soldiers returning from combat tours. The lack of accurate, efficient, cost-effective screening tools may have contributed to a recent tragedy: Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, on his fourth combat tour, allegedly slaughtered 17 civilians in an Afghan village.

The author, psychiatrist Stephen N. Xenakis, is a retired Army brigadier general and the senior adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He helped develop the Army’s programs in stress reduction and pleaded for systematic screenings for traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It’s true, Xenakis notes, that soldiers undergo medical screenings both before and after deployments. But practices vary from base to base, no psychological tests are routinely used, and soldiers may not even be seen by a clinician. Often soldiers are asked to decide for themselves whether or not they’re fit for combat duty.

Xenakis concludes that the military has yet to develop and implement effective tools to identify concussions, shock, substance abuse, PTSD, and other problems related to combat.

The second article of interest today concerns former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged with more than 50 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period. Last year football fans were shocked to learn that Penn State investigated Sandusky for a locker-room incident with a 10-year-old boy back in 2002. Despite clear evidence of sex abuse, no charges were filed.

Today’s Washington Post adds another troubling layer to the story. Back in 1998, two psychologists evaluated Sandusky in connection with an earlier allegation of sexual abuse. One psychologist, Alycia Chambers, told police that the incident fit “a likely pedophile’s pattern.” But the second, John Seasock, concluded that “All the interactions reported by (the boy) can be typically defined as normal between a healthy adult and a young adolescent male.” Police closed the investigation, and no criminal charges were filed.

NBC reviewed the investigation and found that Seasock did not ask the boy for details about the incident. As a result, Seasock did not know that Sandusky had kissed the boy and told him he loved him.

Nor did Seasock know that police had secretly recorded an incriminating phone conversation between Sandusky and the boy’s mother After admitting he had made a mistake, Sandusky said, “I wish I were dead.”

Psychologist Alycia Chambers told NBC that she was horrified to learn that Sandusky allegedly continued assaulting boys long after she had warned authorities about him.

What should have been done about Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales and Jerry Sandusky? Could the crimes attributed to these men have been prevented? Hindsight, we all know, is 100% accurate.

As both these stories show, however, institutions committed to protecting public safety may need to fine-tune the tools and procedures they use to identify, evaluate, and take action against potential lawbreakers.

Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), co-written with the late Mary Mariani. Visit her website at for free report writing resources. Go to for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers.

Submit a Correction
Related Posts