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Authorities Sometimes Powerless, Even With Warning Signs

CHICAGO (CBS) -- From Internet rantings to outbursts at college, there were signs accused Arizona gunman Jared Loughner was a troubled soul. But as CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reports, his case underscores the inability of authorities to take action often until it's too late.

Jared Loughner
This undated photo released by the Pima County Sheriff's Office shows shooting suspect Jared Loughner. (AP Photo/Pima County Sheriff's Dept. via The Arizona Republic)

Long before the Tucson shootings, signs surfaced gunman Loughner had behavioral issues. They led to five run-ins with college police since 2005 and his suspension from school.  Teachers say his outbursts showed signs of intense mistrust.

Nearly three years ago,  at Northern Illinois University,  a troubled former student named Steven Kazmierczak went on a random shooting spree killing six people. Since then, NIU has established systems for faculty to identify problem students, report them to counselors and police and ban them from campus. 

But spokespersons say there is little they can do beyond that.

In the absence of threatening behavior, which often surfaces too late,  there is little authorities and medical professionals can do to get someone with a potential mental disorder into treatment.

"It's everyone's constitutional right to act bizarrely if they so want to  -- the issue is whether they threaten themselves or they threaten others, " says Dr. William Scheftner, director of Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center.

Drugs to help balance mental disorders have led states to reduce the costly amount of bed space available for the mentally ill. The number has dropped from 50,000 in Illinois to roughly 500 in the past four decades. 

"We have the ability at least to make the diagnosis. We don't always have the ability to treat or to force someone into treatment, " Scheftner  said.

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