Monday, October 4, 2010

Jeff Mariotte's "Criminal Minds: Sociopaths, Serial Killers & Other Deviants"

I have a weakness for reading about "axe murderers", the crazy people of our nightmares. This book is fairly standard fare and covers all the classic cases. Not overly lurid, just business-like. It stems from the CBS television series "Criminal Minds". I must admit, I've never watched the show. I prefer documentaries to fictionalized stories.

This is a good book that summarizes a lot of cases. For those who have read in this field before, these isn't much to surprise you here. It will probably be somewhat disappointing. For those who want a one volume "reference" this book is OK. For those new to the "true crime" genre, this book will give you all the basic info about the big name criminals. It is organized by theme so that you can orient yourself and recognize common traits among these crazies. The book is a solid read, no dwelling on gore, but it isn't squeamish. It lays out the facts.

To give you a taste of the writing style, here is a bit from a "case" which wasn't a sociopath or serial killer. Just a guy and his family who were paranoid about the US government: Randy Weaver and the Ruby Ridge massacre. In this case it was the government which went beserk:
The next day, the HRT [Hostage Rescue Team] commander on the scene issued a proposed amendment, applicable only in this particular case, to the unit's standard rules of engagement. Ordinarily agents are supposed to use deadly force only if someone is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm. Among the revised rules was this one: "If any adult male is observed with a weapon prior to the announcement, deadly force can and should be employed, if the shot can be taken without endangering any children."
FBI headquarters didn't approve the amendment, but the assistant director of the bureau's criminal affairs division told the local field commander that it had been approved and that the agents had been briefed accordingly. Some of the bureau's SWAT members later admitte4d that they thought the amended rules were "crazy," and they decided not to follow them.

The next morning, the FBI wanted to get a phone to the cabin, since it didn't have one and the agents wanted to be able to negotiate a surrender. They were still getting into place when a sniper named Lon Horiuschi saw someone he thought was Harris, apparently moving around an outbuilding to get a shot at a bureau helicopter. Horiuchi fired and wounded the man, who turned out to be Randy Weaver. The man ran back into the cabin, along with his daughter Sara and the actual Kevin Harris. Horiuchi fired again. This bullet passed thought the cabin door, killing Vikci Weaver and seriously wounding Harris. Vicki was holding the couple's fourth child, a ten-month-old Elisheba, in her arms when she was shot.

The FBI was unaware that either Vicki or Sammy Weaver had been killed. After a few more days, when Randy and the rest of the family refused to come out of the cabin, the HRT warned that it would start removing the outbuildings. When the agent took down the one called the "birthing shed," they found Sammy's body and assumed that Randy Weaver had killed his own son.
There is just so much wrong with this story. This was in an era when the FBI the ATF and other agencies were "gung-ho, shoot first, ask questions later". They botched this like they botched David Koresh and the takedown of his Waco church. I fully understand that Weaver and Koresh were crazy people, but all of the killing was started by federal agents who went in guns blazing rather than using some strategy to peacefully take these people into custody. The "blowback" from these botched operations has reverberated for years. I'm not aware of any consequences for the agents and agencies (other than some getting killed on idiotic "assaults").

The book has crisp, clear, honest discussions of a lot of crazy people, the harm they did to those around them, the incompetence of the police, and the details of how hard work across jurisdictions finally catches a lot of these guys. You would think that police agencies would immediately recognize this and immediately integrate their intelligence sharing across jurisdictions. But they didn't and they still don't. It was this failure to integrate that allowed the 9/11 attackers to go uncaught.

An aside: Back when I was working at a high tech firm, I wrote several proposals for projects to use modern technologies to securely share information among jurisdictions. The company I was working for got very little interest. We did get funding for one pilot project. Within 8 months and at fairly low cost we put together a prototype system. Lots of "interest" was shown in it by various agencies, but nothing came of it. These different government organizations have no incentive to collaborate (other than doing their job better, but that doesn't appear to be an effective motivator). They will only collaborate if somebody on high mandates it and pays an independent third party to integrate their systems. It can be done. But sadly, most projects that I hear of end up being given to "favourites" who end up wasting taxpayer dollars and delivering systems that are mostly unuseable and so they don't get used. In short: we have met the enemy, and he is us! The government itself is the source of the failure to deliver better law enforcement. Sad.

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