News We Should Lose
October 13, 2002
The Washington Post
We don’t know much about the sniper who has killed eight people and wounded two others since Oct. 2. But we do know this: If we can’t yet solve the crime, we sure should try to avoid making the situation worse. My fear is that we may now be facing a more determined killer, unintentionally emboldened by police, politicians, the media and others whose motives are much better than their judgment. For instance, the sniper’s ninth attack occurred at a school; by announcing that our children were being kept safe in locked-down schools, did we provoke him to do it?
But this is not about hindsight or blame. It’s about the balance between responsiveness and responsibility, and the prudent vetting of the visual and verbal messages that, for a killer, may carry potent rewards.
I am a psychologist with a 22-year career in law enforcement, training police officers and advising police departments on criminal behavior. But it doesn’t take a PhD to know that human behavior depends heavily on reinforcement. Reward a behavior, and that behavior is likely to be repeated. Create the right consequence, and the behavior abates. For our serial sniper, the rewards have been remarkable. In our already tense post-Sept. 11 atmosphere, he has captured the attention of America, from the man and woman in the street all the way up to the president.
All That Hassle — But Not All That Secure
April 28, 2002
The Washington Post
“I’m sick of this.” Little did I realize when those words slipped from my lips at an airline security checkpoint in January that they would prompt a brief flirtation with an automatic weapon. An M-16 to be precise. It seems as if questioning any new security measures is tantamount to heresy in post-Sept. 11 America. I will continue to do so, nonetheless.
I understand what went wrong on that evening at New York’s La Guardia Airport. And I know that I was partly to blame. But I’ve come away from the experience convinced that passengers are suffering needlessly from aggressive checks while bigger problems behind the scenes are being neglected. Last week more than 140 food service workers, contract construction workers and baggage handlers at the Washington area’s three major airports were indicted for allegedly lying about their identities or prior criminal convictions including gun, drug and assault charges.