How do you know who’s dangerous?

It’s easy to say Pima Community College should have “done something” to get Jared Loughner into mental-health treatment, writes Community College Dean. But it’s remarkably hard to do more than suspend a student who appears to be mentally ill.

Like many, my college established a Threat Assessment Team after the Virginia Tech massacre. The team has faculty, counselors, student affairs leadership, an academic dean, and the head of security on it. It examines cases brought to it by concerned members of the college community about people on campus who are exhibiting signs of being dangerous.

. . . Okay, a student is pale and withdrawn, young, male, socially awkward, sometimes angry, and frequently in his own world. Is he dangerous or just weird? How do you know? That same student writes a paper in which he admits fantasizing about buying an Uzi, driving to the worst part of town, and “doing some justice.” (I’m describing a student I had in one of my classes about ten years ago.) Is he a mass murderer in the making, or just someone who has watched way too many action movies? How do you know?

It’s easier in Arizona than in most states to get a judge to order a mental-health evaluation. College officials, the sheriff’s department or  Loughner’s parents could have done it. If they had, it probably would have saved the lives of six people. But what’s clear in hindsight is not so clear at the time.

A former student has sued Brooklyn College charging she spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital after reporting suspicions that her roommate or landlord had planted a video camera in her bedroom.

The new lawsuit alleges that when (Sophia) Eze went to Brooklyn College’s security office to voice her suspicions, a college psychological counselor was summoned. The counselor asked her a “series of personal questions pertaining to her psychological state of mind,” the suit said, including whether she was suicidal, heard voices or ever suffered from mental illness.

The lawsuit said that Ms. Eze answered all the questions in the negative, but that the counselor called an ambulance anyway and that Ms. Eze was “forcibly led into an ambulance.”

Eze already has won $110,000 in a lawsuit against the psychiatric hospital.

Few community colleges have psychiatrists on staff, notes Inside Higher Ed.