INDIANAPOLIS — Officials have revealed the suspects behind recent mass shootings left an online trail of warning signs before the deadly rampages. But, experts explain police do not have total authority to track people’s moves online whenever they want or for an extended period of time.
“When I was [with the FBI] you have, I think, at least a 90-day initial period to do an assessment,” Doug Kouns, CEO of Veracity IIR, said. “There were certain investigative techniques that you can employ during that 90 days to decide whether or not okay we do have a potential threat here and we need to escalate it.”
Of course, the approval to launch any investigative techniques requires law enforcement to get approval from upper-level managers. And, after the initial 90 days, there must be a reason the judge gives law enforcement more time to watch the person.
“Ultimately if there’s nothing to escalate that, eventually they’re going to fall off the radar,” Kouns said.
Kouns said getting permission to use investigative techniques to review private content from a person of interest requires probable cause of a crime.
“Then you can go to a judge and write up an affidavit and ask them to sign an order to allow you to review that content,” Kouns explained. “But without that due process no, it doesn’t just happen generally.”
Kouns said if anyone suspects a person of scheming to create harm, they should call police.
“It may not be actually a threat, it could be,” Kouns said. “But that’s not for you to decide.”
Police and the courts can sometimes remove guns from potentially dangerous people through Indiana’s red flag law.
“It can be on the basis of several things: of behaviors, threats or comments related to violence, social media posts and texts,” Jody Madeira, Professor of Law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, said.
This law removes guns from a person a judge deems dangerous and prevents them from purchasing more firearms for at least a short amount of time.
“Basically what it is is we just want to be sure these individuals won’t harm themselves, won’t harm other individuals,” Madeira said.
A red flag case does not mean law enforcement can begin using surveillance techniques on the person involved in the case. Ultimately experts said the community’s role is to alert authorities to concerning behavior.
“No matter if we think they’re serious or not to report them unless we absolutely know that they’re kidding,” Madiera said.
If you would like to submit a tip regarding a crime, the Department of Justice lists several resources at www.justice.gov.