The Agony of Releasing a Murderer

 

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Convicted murderer Albert Flick at July 2018 arraignment PHOTO Portland Press Herald

Westborough, MA August 2, 2018  On Sunday July 15 a man who had been released from jail for committing the violent murder of his wife again killed a woman with whom he had an infatuation. He had been stalking her for weeks prior to her murder.  She was fearful of going to the police at the time of her death but had spoken to friends about her worries. What may have prevented the victim from calling police when she first noticed Mr. Flick was stalking her? Why was she fearful of the very people charged with preventing violence? What may have happened if she had notified the officer on her beat? Or a police officer walking in her neighborhood?
The answers is that Mr. Flick would have had a visitor that in all likelihood would derail his infatuating behavior. If not, he would have had is parole revoked as it should have rightfully been done.  I was a police officer when Flick murdered his wife in 1979.  I was on duty when the call came in to the station but as a junior officer was not dispatched to the scene.  Nevertheless, the case is well know to me and I later worked closely with the arresting investigator Ron Allanach and his partner Wayne Syphers – both exemplary career law enforcement officers.  Ron went on to earn his doctorate in counseling and was chief of police for 8 years at the end of his career in Westbrook, Maine.  Flick is shown in the photograph being taken to court by Detective Syphers who made a heroic effort to save the life of the victim who ultimately died in his arms in 1979.  Albert Flick should have remained in jail for life and many in law enforcement who remember the case are agonizing over  his release after serving 20 years.
“Clearly, probation is not working. … At this point, I just don’t know what else to do. I think there’s a huge safety risk to women and society when it comes to Mr. Flick.” Prosecutor Katherine Tierney, 2010
WayneSyphers and Flick
Albert Flick with Det. Wayne Syphers (right) at Cumberland County, Maine trial in 1979
Flick was known for a proclivity for violence against women. After being released from his murder conviction Flick was arrested for chasing an intimate partner with a screw driver with intent to due harm. There would be other charges and other arrests that were red flags for the underlying anger he felt toward woman.  A group of us will reach out to Mr. Flick in the coming months for a sit down.
The female victim, Kimberly Dobbie, in this Lewiston, Maine case had felt threatened by Flick. Her instincts were keen as it related to his potential for violence against her. But she told only her friend.  She was 30 years his junior and had spurned his love interest. She had twin children who observed this despicable killing and are traumatized having witnessed their mother’s death. Gavin deBecker espoused the value of trusting our instincts as they pertain to our personal safety.
Flick had been in and out of prison for crimes involving intimate partner violence and intimidating female witness who were courageous in coming forward against Flick.
“You can’t say that nothing can be done, because nothing will be done,” said Michael Sefton, a former Westbrook police officer who now works in Massachusetts for the New Braintree Police Department.
Keep Me Current, 2011
The judge who authorized Flick’s release is retired from the bench but his stated opinion for releasing Flick was that “he had aged-out and was no longer criminally inclined”.  Technically this was true.  Most men who commit domestic violence homicide do not recidivate once released from prison especially those over the age of 70. So by all reasonable judicial standards Flick was considered a low-risk release. Probation would keep him in line. Not so fast. On the other hand, more information was available from his first release that included repeated violence against women. There is also information that suggested that Mr. Flick did not seek his own release and may have been institutionalized with the simmering anger he himself expected would again leach from his despicable soul.
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In the Aftermath: Does Community Policing Require Follow-up?

Commissioner Bardimages
Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville Bard, Jr.
WESTBOROUGH, MA July 30, 2018  The growth of the Community Policing model has brought about impressive changes in the way in which police and citizens interact. The Community Policing model brings police officers out of their cruisers and into the neighborhoods.  Its primary goal was to
reduce crime through improved relationships between citizens and law enforcement
personnel. It is not a new policing strategy and was first introduced in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Commissioner Branville Bard, Jr.  is shown below in a July 10 video where he was reading to a community group of children. His vitae indicates that Bard has earned a Doctorate in Public Administration from Valdosta State University. He has a B.A. in Criminal Justice. Bard has previously been appointed to serve as the Co-Chair of current Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s transition team for Public Safety and a member of the Criminal Justice Advisory Board (CJAB) for the Community College of Philadelphia.
When the Community policing model was first introduced it was assumed that greater visibility of police officers on foot patrol would reduce the fear of crime among citizens and enhance cooperation and trust between the police and those they are sworn to protect and serve. Officers throughout the Boston, MA area regularly can be seen on bicycle patrol. I have encountered Watertown Police officers on bike patrol on the Charles River trail and found them both helpful and friendly.
Police officers were given greater autonomy and discretion when handing citizen complaints and investigating crimes as the community policing model evolved. The cop on the beat got to know people in the neighborhoods he patrolled, business leaders, and many of the
local “players.”
Given the greater expectation for improved police – civilian encounters using the community police model it has become apparent that with enhanced trust and cooperationthat a bridge be built of transparency, fairness, and decentralized leadership. This must evolve to include greater appreciation for the needs of individual communities and those most in need of support.
“By almost any measure, Massachusetts has lost the leadership role it once had in
mental health care”  Boston Globe Series
      Police officers slowly bought in to the model and gradually saw the fruits of their efforts by developing relationships and understanding of individual differences among the frequent flyers.
The scope of community policing in the 21 st century extends the role of police officers to
include frequent encounters with emotional imbalance, mental illness and substance
abuse.
     There are inherent problems with any notion that police officers will return to the scene of bad domestic calls where there may have been a violent arrest only days before. This stems from the adversarial model that exists in most law enforcement agencies where follow-up to criminal activity is rarely conducted by front line officers. Many departments delegate follow-up investigations to detectives or in rare case civilian
personnel and sometimes mental health advocates. This schism lacks fundamental adherence to the community policing mantra of building relationships and trust between the police and its citizenry.
 https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FCambridgePolice%2Fvideos%2F1857887157582652%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Thin Blue Line

The loss of Weymouth, MA Sgt. Michael Chesna impacts all of law enforcement and the behavior of the shooter must not be repeated. Sgt. Chesna will be buried on Friday July 20, 2018 with the full honors of the hero he was.
“And maybe just remind the few, if ill of us they speak, that we are all that stands between the monsters and the weak.”

So what is good about Hardiness?

WESTBOROUGH, MA  June 15, 2018  I am working on a Police Chief’s Guide to Mental Illness with a colleague here in Massachusetts.  Part of the project involves offering tips for career success for law enforcement officers.  The guide is written to identify signs of MH involvement and add strategies for LEO’s to handle calls for service involving the mentally ill.  These calls have grown in number over the recent past largely due to a desire to reduce the population of people with mental illness who are being held in county jails and state prisons. Jail diversion programs shunt cases from the criminal justice system into treatment for mental illness.  In doing so, the subject with mental illness is more likely to fall off police radar and reduce the need for direct police intervention in the future.

Hardiness is a personality or cognitive style marked by increased levels of control, commitment, and challenge (Kobasa 1979; Maddi and Kobasa 1984). “Sisu” is a Finnish term related to concepts such as resilience, perseverance and hardiness.  Hardiness can be learned and requires practice. “Learned resilience to stress leads to psychological hardiness rather than psychological weariness.” according to Leo F. Polizotti, Ph.D. of the Decision Institute in Worcester, MA.  Dr. Polizotti teaches law enforcement officers methods of reducing stress and developing career hardiness.  

High hardy individuals believe they can control or influence events and are strongly committed to activities and their interpersonal relationships and to self, in that they recognize their own distinctive values, goals, and priorities in life as described by Bartone in his 1999 publication. “Research on stress management, coping with trauma and post-traumatic growth all suggest that there can indeed be deep-seated, positive benefits to be gained from hardship. These include strengthening of character, a deeper experience of purpose and meaning, and increased resilience, as well as enhanced relationships and greater appreciation of life” in a blog by Emilia Lahti 2018.
“Sisu is a Finnish word generally meaning determination, bravery, and resilience. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any other language. Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is Sisu.” Backpacker Filth Blog 2015
People high in hardiness also tend to interpret stressful events in positive and constructive ways, construing such events as challenges and valuable learning opportunities (Bartone 1999). Hardy subjects have been described as optimists with a tendency to evaluate challenging situations in a positive manner (Cole et al. 2004) and to label these types of situations as understandable and meaningful. This makes hardy persons more proactive, leading to the use of proactive coping behaviors.  Hardiness as an important stress-resiliency resource across a wide range of domains, such as psychological well-being and physical strain, as well as performance.

Bjørn Helge Johnsen, Roar Espevik, Evelyn-Rose Saus, Sverre Sanden, Olav Kjellevold
Olsen, Sigurd W. Hystad. Hardiness as a Moderator and Motivation for Operational Duties as Mediator: the Relation Between Operational Self-Efficacy, Performance Satisfaction, and Perceived Strain in a Simulated Police Training Scenario. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, , Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 331–339.

Bartone, P.T. (1999). Hardiness protects against warAdditional work is needed to evaluate the related stress in Army reserve forces. Consulting potential value of hardiness for commissioned Army Psychology Journal. 51, 72-82.

Polizotti, L. (2018) Personal Correspondence. Career reslience and hardiness. Decision Institute training curriculum.

Lahti, E. (2018) Sisu Begins Where Perseverance Ends. Blog post: https://www.emilialahti.com/what-is-sisu Taken May 28, 2018

Desperate Victim’s plea for help

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Victim passed this note to Veterinarian staff – Photo VCSD

WESTBOROUGH, MA  June 6, 2018 A case of domestic violence unfolded on Memorial Day weekend in Volusia County, Florida when a female victim was being held by her live-in boyfriend. The note implores staff members of the DeLand Animal Hospital to call police because her partner was threatening her and had a gun.  These kinds of desperate measures occur occasionally and are dramatic and newsworthy. The staff at the DeLand Animal Hospital are to be commended.  But there are intimate partners everywhere who live in fear just as the indomitable victim who passed this note had been living.

“From coast to coast LEO’s are caught in this moth eaten, patchwork system that lacks resources for both the mentally ill and those addicted to alcohol and drugs.” Michael Sefton, Ph.D. 2018

As the story goes, her boyfriend had beaten her and was refusing to allow her to leave the couple’s home.  To her credit (perhaps life saving) she convinced the man that she needed to bring the dog to the veterinarian.  He agreed but would not allow her to go without him. Upon arrival this note was passed to a member of the hospital staff who knew just what to do.  The man is now behind bars being held without bail – manning his defense.

There is a consensus among experts in domestic violence that victims are abused multiple times – often threatened with death – before they call police for help.

As a society, more needs to be done to fill-in the holes in the system designed to keep families safe.  Safety plans and orders of protection are not enough.  From coast to coast LEO’s are caught in this moth eaten, patchwork system that lacks resources for both the mentally ill and those addicted to alcohol and drugs. The holes in the system allow for violence prone individuals to allude police and coerce victims into silence.  But every once in a while, a silent victim writes a life saving note and gives it to the right person.

Domestic violence happens in family systems that are secretive, chaotic, and dysfunctional.  This lifestyle pushes them into the margins of society – often detached from the communities in which they live.

The abusive spouse makes his efforts known within the system by his barbaric authoritarian demands.  He keeps his spouse isolated as a way of controlling and manipulating whatever truth exists among these disparate family members.  The consequence of this isolation leaves women without a sense of “self” – alone an emotional orphan vulnerable to his threat of abandonment and annihilation.

Successful intervention for these families must slowly bring them back from the margins into the social milieu. Arguably, the resistance to this is so intense that the violent spouse will pull up stakes and move his family at the first sign of public scrutiny.

Police officers are regarded as the front line first responders to family conflict and DV.  For better or worse, the police have an opportunity to effect change whenever they enter into the domestic foray.  This affords them a window into the chaos and the opportunity to bring calm to crisis.  In many cases, the correct response to intimate partner violence should include aftermath intervention when the dust has settled from the crisis that brought police to this threshold.  When this is done it establishes a baseline of trust, empathy, and resilience.

Community policing has long espoused the partnership between police and citizens.  The positive benefits to this create bridges between the two that may benefit officers at times of need – including the de facto extra set of eyes when serious crimes are reported.  But the model goes two ways and requires that police return to their calls and establish protocols for defusing future events meanwhile processing and understanding the current actions of recent police encounters. When done effectively the most difficult families may be kept off the police radar screens for longer periods of time that can be a good thing when it comes to manpower deployment and officer safety.

Violence prediction: Keeping the radar sites on those who would do us harm

crosshairsWESTBOROUGH, MA May 20, 2018 In response to recent acts of both terrorism and recurrent gun violence by home-grown psychopaths more should be done to maintain greater control over potentially violent persons. In the Las
Vegas concert venue and the more recent Texas church massacre it becomes
increasingly clear that predicting violence is practically impossible. At least this is
what we are led to believe. And yet when it comes to domestic violence
homicide the similarities in cases are almost carbon copy.
In the end, there is always at least a single person who knows what is about to happen and often does nothing to stop it. Whether this duplicity stems from cultural beliefs that what happens behind closed doors is nobody’s busy change in the way in which law enforcement manages these cases is essential. The buy in from police, legislators, judges, probation, and society needs to be fully endorsed for real change to happen and for safety plans to work. Many states across America are planning to enact “red flag” rules that will remove weapons from individuals with a known history of domestic violence e.g. choking spouse during fight. These behaviors toward a victim instill fear and point to the perilous danger that exists.
“Someone with a history, particularly a continuing history of violence, can be presumed to be dangerous.” Frederick Neuman, MD
Coercion and Control
Lenore Walker is a psychologist at the Domestic Violence Institute has published a theoretical description of the coercion and control model of DV. Victims are young and vulnerable to being emotionally and physically controlled. The Texas killer Devin Patrick Kelley had all the makings of a violent abuser from the time he was in high school and only now are people willing to talk about his darker side. Kelley was separated from his second wife who was just 19. Victims like this are often kept away from their families, not allowed to work, or when working are not permitted to handle their own funds. Some victims have to explain every cell phone call or text message they make or receive often being met with jealous fury. By robbing their sense of self keeps intimate partners emotionally isolated and insecure. They are often led to believe they could not live on their own and the children they share will be lost to them if they choose to leave. This “so called” male privilege keeps his partner marginalized and in servitude. It appears at first glance that Kelley was looking for the mother of his currently estranged wife likely enraged over steps taken to keep them apart as the divorce progressed through the courts.
Occasionally police or children’s services are called when intimidation and threats become violent. It is important to provide aftermath intervention and follow-up with families where domestic violence or chronic substance abuse occurs or families tend to disappear. Change is required to pay closer attention to those with whom law enforcement has frequent contact. Over and over
surviving family members speak of coercion and control on behalf of the abused.  Lives will be saved when society takes a closer look at red flag violence – these are the preincident indicators that violence and domestic violence homicide are possible. This is not new data nor are the stories very different.
I speak to police agencies and individual officers about DV and DVH offering detail from the psychological autopsy research we conducted on a sensational and tragic case in Dexter, Maine in which Stephen Lake killed his 35-year old spouse after 10 years of marriage along with their 2 children. The Lake case was very much like the Kelley murders in terms of the cycle of abuse and its early onset. It was thought that Lake was intending to go on a killing spree but was interrupted in the act by an observant police officer. Recently a police officer participating in the statewide DV task force in Vermont asked whether there is a single most important factor or predictor to the risk of DVH? Some believe the fear of being killed by her spouse and abject cruelty toward step children raise the bar significantly and as such are worthy of crafting one’s DV report and request for orders of protection around. But keeping the victim and her abuser on the radar screen will also reduce her fear and loneliness and offer greater protection. Other risk factors include: choking and recurrent
sexual violence – although victims seldom disclose this out of guilt and fear of not being believed.
People knew what might happen
The Psychological Autopsy of Stephen Lake consisted of over 200 hours of interviews with immediate family members on both sides. Stephen’s aunt was quoted as saying “I never thought he would take the kids” in reference to an acknowledgment of his depression and anger at the impending divorce. She believed Lake would take his own life in front of his wife and children as a final act of punishment they would never forget. But he went far beyond that as we again saw in the small church in Texas this week. We are getting better at teaching children and families that if the see something they should say something. This is the trademark line of the Transportation Safety Administration in its fight against terrorism. The same might be taught to neighbors and friends when domestic violence is suspected or known to be occurring. If you see something than it is incumbent upon each of us to do something to help those in harms way.

Neuman, F.  (2012) Is It Possible to Predict Violent Behavior? Can a psychiatric examination predict, and prevent, a mass murder? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fighting-fear/201212/is-it-possible-predict-violent-behavior Taken May 12, 2018

Violence in the Workplace: Do people just “snap”?

WESTBOROUGH, MA June 2, 2018  Violence in the workplace is commonplace but has taken a back seat in the setting of recent school shootings. Research on the “lethal employee” is becoming more reliable in the aftermath of of workplace violence. Nevertheless people commit murder in their workplace more than ever.  What should people do if they are worried about a co-worker becoming violent.  There are signs that someone is loosing control and may be thinking of violence.  A list of potential factors is taken below from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security publication from 2008. The term “going postal” refers to a workplace shooter or act of violence.  It evolved from workplace violence in the U.S. Postal service in the 1980’s according to a report published in 2008.

“One theory was that the post office was such a high-pressure work environment that it drove people insane. In the years to come, other cases of murderous rages by mailmen cemented the idea in the public mind. “Going postal” became a synonym for flipping out under pressure.”

RECOGNIZING POTENTIAL WORKPLACE VIOLENCE
“An active shooter in your workplace may be a current or former employee, or an acquaintance of a current or former employee. Intuitive managers and coworkers may notice characteristics of potentially violent behavior in an employee. Alert your Human Resources Department if you believe an employee or coworker exhibits potentially violent behavior” (2008)

Indicators of Potential Violence by an Employee Employees typically do not just “snap,” but display indicators of potentially violent behavior over time. If these behaviors are recognized, they can often be managed and treated. Potentially violent behaviors by an employee may include one or more of the following (this list of behaviors is not comprehensive, nor is it intended as a mechanism for diagnosing violent tendencies):
• Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
• Unexplained increase in absenteeism; vague physical complaints
• Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene
• Depression / withdrawal
• Resistance and overreaction to changes in policy and procedures
• Repeated violations of company policies
• Increased severe mood swings
• Noticeably unstable, emotional responses
• Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
• Suicidal; comments about “putting things in order”
• Behavior which is suspect of paranoia, (“everybody is against me”)
• Increasingly talks of problems at home
• Escalation of domestic problems into the workplace; talk of severe financial problems
• Talk of previous incidents of violence
• Empathy with individuals committing violence
• Increase in unsolicited comments about firearms, other dangerous weapons and violent crimes

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2008). Active Shooter – How to Respond
Bovsum, M. (2010) NY Daily News. Mailman massacre: 14 die after Patrick Sherrill ‘goes postal’ in 1986 shootings. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/mailman-massacre-14-die-patrick-sherrill-postal-1986-shootings-article-1.204101 Taken May 19, 2018