San José, Calif., March 14, 2017 —While few in number, attacks by mentally disordered persons on surface and air transportation can be lethal and pose special security challenges. MTI’s latest Transportation Security Perspective, The Threat to Air and Ground Transportation Posed by Mentally Disordered Assailants, authored by Brian Michael Jenkins, Director of MTI’s National Transportation Safety and Security Center, and MTI Research Associate Bruce Butterworth, reviews violent attacks on public surface transportation and commercial aviation to explore the nature of the threat posed by mentally disordered assailants.
The analysis is based on the Mineta Transportation Institute’s database of 5,047 attacks on public surface transportation since 1970 and a separate database compiling 132 attacks against scheduled airliners serving the public and commercial airports since 9/11.
Of the 5,047 attacks on public surface transportation, 53 (1%) were perpetrated by attackers categorized as mentally disordered. Despite the small number, there does appear to be a trend showing an increase in the number of attacks, particularly since 2000, and they also appear to be growing more lethal. Conversely, since 9/11, there have been 132 attacks against aviation targets, including commercial airports; 15 (11%) of these have involved mentally disordered persons as categorized by the authors.
There is understandable concern among mental health professionals about stigmatizing the mentally ill, who are often incorrectly portrayed as violent. As Jenkins’ notes, “the mentally disordered do not represent a significant threat to society or to public transportation. More mentally stable actors with ideological motives pose a far greater threat.”
The security perspective is available for free download from http://transweb.sjsu.edu/PDFs/
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Brian Michael Jenkins is an international authority on terrorism and sophisticated crime. He directs the Mineta Transportation Institute’s National Transportation Safety and Security Center, which focuses on research into protecting surface transportation against terrorist attacks. He is also a senior advisor to the president of RAND. He has authored several books, chapters, and articles on counterterrorism, including International Terrorism: A New Mode of Conflict and Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? Most recently, he published When Armies Divide, a discussion about nuclear arms in the hands of rebelling armies. He also has been principal investigator for many peer-reviewed security-focused research reports for MTI.
Bruce Butterworth has had a distinguished government career, working at congressional, senior policy, and operational levels. He has served as a MTI Research Associate since 2006. Mr. Butterworth was awarded an MS from the London School of Economics in 1974.
ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE
At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nation's’ transportation system through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer. We help create a connected world.
MTI was founded in 1991 and is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.
Contact: Hilary Nixon, Ph.D.
MTI Director of Research and Technology Transfer
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