Q&A: Kean University Professor James Drylie, Ph.D., on Reducing Mass Shootings, Enhancing Public Safety

UNION, N.J. — James J. Drylie, Ph.D., executive director of the Kean University School of Criminal Justice and Public Administration, joined Kean in 2006 after 25 years in law enforcement with the West Orange Police Department. He serves as director of the Center for Cybersecurity at Kean. A U.S./U.K. Fulbright Police Scholar, his research has been published in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Q. One of the most devastating crimes to face our country and the world has been mass shootings. Why have there been so many? What is the key to stopping or curbing them?

Mass shooting, as a concept, is not defined legally. The tendency is to lump them all into one category. Before we can make recommendations that can assist in developing a long-term strategy, we must obtain a clearer picture of the individuals involved and what may motivate or trigger them.

Overall, mass shootings fall into three broad categories: Mass public shootings, domestic violence-related mass shootings; and felony-related mass shootings. Of the three, mass public shootings occur with less frequency and have fewer fatalities than domestic violence and felony-related shootings.

Q. Can gun control or other measures stop or reduce mass shootings, and what would be most effective?

The only gun control that can stop mass shootings is a complete removal of firearms. With that said, the absence of firearms in any society, particularly those where possession of firearms is strictly regulated or prohibited, has not prevented mass killings. London had a terrorist incident where people with knives started stabbing people. You can remove one instrument but not the human drive to commit mass violence in certain circumstances.

Under red flag laws, if someone believes a person poses a threat and is connected to a firearm, they can report it to police and recommend the removal of the weapon. But how effective this can be is subject to debate and rests in compliance. Keep in mind that patients being treated for mental illness have privacy protections.

Universal background checks should be just that, universal. Compare it to the issuance of a passport. A system can be developed that would not violate civil rights or Constitutional rights and would improve overall safety.

New Jersey has long been at the forefront in laws regulating the sale, possession and transportation of firearms. Here, a lawfully registered person is issued a lifelong ID number, which can be cross-referenced with any criminal activity involving that person. That system could also work nationwide.

Q. Officers shot and killed innocent people in their own homes during two recent incidents in Texas. How do we prevent this from happening again?

Both of these incidents were tragic and likely preventable under different circumstances. The officers involved were charged with murder under state law, which demonstrates a willingness to hold individuals accountable. That does not absolve the system from being proactive in improving training for police personnel.

Police training must be more than static, skill-based exercises. It needs to emphasize decision making and cognitive-based skills. It should be universal in approach and application and not based on race, ethnicity, or other demographics.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 2002-2011, there were approximately 44 million citizen-police contacts, with slightly more than 1.6 percent involving some level of force used by police. These numbers should be a benchmark for lowering the number of incidents and encounters where force is applied.

Q. Lastly, what are the biggest issues in cybersecurity right now?

One of the major challenges facing society, in terms of sound cybersecurity policies, is an overall complacency. All of the best security initiatives can be immediately undone with poor practice at any level in an organization. Another caution I give is to remind corporations and governments that investment in prevention is far better than damage control. There’s too much at stake.