Tulane criminologist joins national discussion on Newtown - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Tulane criminologist joins national discussion on Newtown

New Orleans, La. -

In the wake of the Newton, Connecticut mass shooting, local school systems began the new year reviewing their security plans.  Now a Tulane criminologist may be at the center of the debate over new national policies to avert such killings.

"We're only three weeks after Newtown -- everybody in my business is worried about copycats," said Tulane's Peter Scharf.

As school officials on both sides of the lake meet to revamp their security procedures, Dr. Scharf is helping shape new legislation in congress, working with the chief counsel of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Scharf has put together a 15-page position paper that could serve as a component of a new bill called the Youth Promise Act.  He says, "We have these mass killings with low frequencies, and we have these murders in the city and we think they are different.  But are they?  And how do we shape the legislation?"

He's outlined a plan that calls for better mental health access and tries to get young people to come forward, anytime they hear of a threat.   And he says it might be time to go beyond just monitoring mental health patients who have been adjudicated, though he admits its a thorny issue.

It's an issue that strikes close to home.  In August 2011, a Lakeshore High terrorism threat was thwarted when a student informant came forward and notified school officials, who in turn notified authorities.

One of Scharf's main recommendations in his report to Congress is to do more to encourage peers to come forward -- that was key to what happened in Lakeshore High.  Dr. Scharf says, "You've got to set it up in a systematic peer counseling mentality."

He recommends peer mentoring programs be set up for any child who's in trouble. 

And Scharf believes the issue is larger than gun control, but he says America does have a problem. "There's too many AK-47's," Scharf said.  "Somebody's got to deal with this."

He's hoping his report helps leads to a congressional solution, something both sides of the aisle can get behind.

The widely-read criminologist admits there are huge privacy issues at stake when considering monitoring those seeking psychiatric care, but he says it's an issue that's worth exploring.

Scharf says there will be likely be a series of national summits on these issues in the next few weeks.

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