That’s how many times the police reportedly visited Nikolas Cruz’s home over seven years before he became the latest infamous school shooter.
There were other warning signs, too. Threats to classmates. Photos Cruz posted online of himself with guns along with violent statements.
Cruz, who suffered from depression, apparently got counseling at one point. Surely more could have been done to protect society from his lethal urges.
Florida law enforcement said it was “legally handcuffed” from arresting Cruz, who is accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on February 14. Still, the public is left to wonder what might have happened if, just once, someone had intervened.
In Fort Worth someone might have stepped in. A police department program now in place aims to protect the public from someone with violent fantasies. We think it’s a program other communities should consider.
In September, the Fort Worth police department created its Crisis Intervention Team to deal with individuals who pose a threat to themselves and the public before they have a chance to act out.
It seems to be working. During their first six months they’ve handled more 1,000 cases where people were struggling with mental problems. Police have confiscated more than 100 guns. Officers have committed more than 140 people to John Peter Smith Hospital for treatment.
None of this is done cavalierly. The six officers, one detective and a supervisor who make up the team, receive extra training to deal with these “mental health consumers.” They also work closely with Mental Health Mental Retardation of Tarrant County to set a course of action.
Each case is reviewed by a magistrate to make sure the defendant’s rights are protected. And don’t think that this is a mobile counseling service. People who break the law go to jail.
All of this has been done economically. Since the officers are available to answer other calls, the additional cost to the city has been the roughly $3,000 it spent to buy uniforms and to retrofit patrol vehicles.
Star-Telegram reporter Prescotte Stokes III recently showed how effective the unit can be. He wrote about a south Fort Worth woman who was home alone with a hatchet, a knife, alcohol, a four-page suicide note and a revolver. She hadn’t hurt anyone yet when the team arrived.
Officers removed the weapons from the home and she was transferred to JPS. A potentially deadly situation was defused.
This is a compassionate and common sense approach to a complicated problem. Since police often serve as the first responders for mental health services, other departments in North Texas need to follow Fort Worth’s lead.
The unit could be even more effective if it added six more officers to the team, as the team leader has requested. We hope that happens.
There’s no way to guarantee that every Nikolas Cruz can be stopped. He’s just the latest in a long string of gunmen with a deadly grudge. But it is a pretty solid bet that it wouldn’t have taken a team like the one in Fort Worth 39 visits to determine Cruz was a threat to society and that something preemptive needed to be done.