Recent public acts of violence across the country and the world are opening up a dialogue on who is most at risk for being violent. On July 29th, experts from around the US will converge on Omaha, Nebraska for the annual Great Plains Disaster Behavioral Health Conference to address strategies mitigating violence. NET News talked with Mario Scalora, the director of the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center. He will be discussing the emerging science of threat assessment and management at the event.
NET NEWS: There is increased pressure in our society to predict who is most at risk for being violent. What role does this conference serve in that effort?
MARIO SCALORA: Obviously training in this issue is always welcomed. Recent events have told us that we're being more and more confronted with very risky situations and that in many of the situations that have erupted, there are often warning signs. So it's in our interest to continue to train people not only to detect these situations but figure out, when we have something of concern, how to assess it and think about the ethical and legal issues as we're doing it so that we don't overreact, that we do it in a very professionally consistent manner and do it in a manner that facilitates people reporting again in the future.
NET NEWS: How much of this work is looking at not only those who are prone to violence, but also those affected?
MARIO SCALORA: Sadly, particularly even after Oklahoma City the tragic bombing we had substantially more effort and resources placed on how to look at the impact of these types of events and other traumatic events on communities, on people in particular, and what are the long standing impacts of that. 9-11 further propelled that work. But we are seeing still a lot of energy being put into looking at both the perpetrators and the survivors of these events.
NET NEWS: I know much of this conference focuses on preventing or reporting potentially violent activity. What are some of the ethical issues in doing so though?
MARIO SCALORA: I think ethics hits us on two levels. One is how do we feel responsible for looking out for each other if we have something that is concerning to us? What are ways we can report and address those situations in a manner that's consistent with our values as a community, in a manner that makes people comfortable to report and makes us comfortable that the report will be handled very professionally, carefully, and discreetly? Part of that is just being confident in our ability to handle these things carefully and discreetly. The other piece of that is when we think of these events, not one of them has gone by without people afterwards saying, ‘Oh my God, I saw the warning signs and I wish I did something.’ Our job is to try to prevent that from happening here. The other side of ethics really deals with the professionals who manage it and when not only are there the ethics of providing treatment to people who deal with trauma and who have been exposed to trauma and what are the ethical issues and what state of practice related to that, but also learning about the ethical principles around. If we are providing treatment to people, for example, in a mental health setting or in a correctional setting and we hear of risks of harm what are the ethical and legal obligations we have to manage that risk of violence while still maintaining a treatment relationship? There are multiple layers of ethical and legal issues that pervades all these types of things.