Cops Dig Anti-Game Crusader

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02:00 AM Dec. 16, 2005 PT

No definitive link has ever been discovered showing violent video games cause violent behavior. Even so, thousands of law-enforcement officers on our streets are being told otherwise.

Meet Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, one of law enforcement's most in-demand speakers and trainers.

Grossman, an ex-Army Ranger and West Point psychology professor, has been on the road 300 days a year since 2001, speaking mostly to law-enforcement departments and academies. He's booked solid through late 2006.

One of Grossman's key messages is that "violent media and video games are the largest single threat to modern civilization."

Grossman claims to be one of the "world's foremost experts in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime."

He is founder and director of the Killology Research Group, a police and military consultancy, and since the Columbine massacre, he's become one of the game industry's most fervent critics.

He's written several high-profile books, including On Killing, which is required reading at the FBI Academy and some of the nation's top military schools. He also wrote Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence.

Grossman has testified before Congress and numerous state legislatures. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for On Killing and was cited by President Clinton during a national address.

According to Grossman, first-person shooters are "murder simulators" that not only desensitize players from the psychological ramifications of killing, but also teach the mechanics of killing.

In October, Grossman spoke for four hours at the Utah Sheriffs' Association annual conference and "kept everyone glued to their seat," said a law-enforcement trade publication.

Two of those hours were spent discussing studies of the effects of violent video games on kids.

Grossman refused several times to comment for this story, citing his busy schedule.

But Grossman has likely left a deep impression on thousands of police officers and detectives.

"Are we cognizant that these games are out there and they have a big influence over our youth? Absolutely," said Chief David Hiller, national vice president for the Fraternal Order of Police, the world's largest police organization.

Hiller said the FOP hasn't taken an official position on the issue of video-game violence, but a lot of officers on the street are concerned that young people are emulating violent games.

"Remember, these kids are being rewarded for pulling the trigger and killing people," Hiller said. Hiller said some officers search for violent video games at crime scenes to present as evidence at trial.

Thomas J. Aveni, co-founder of The Police Policy Studies Council, a law-enforcement training and consulting company, said Grossman is misguided to draw a definitive link between media violence and real violence.

"He does perpetuate misconceptions among police," Aveni said.

Aveni said the real causes of violence are upbringing, poverty and other social factors, and that Grossman's argument is "too simplistic" and "illogical."

"The vast majority of violent felony crimes ... are being committed by inner-city youths who don't have an Xbox, meaning they haven't been conditioned by violent video games," he said.

Aveni said he and Grossman have debated violent video games in e-mail several times in the past. He has challenged Grossman to a public debate but Grossman declined.

"He should reconsider much of what he disseminates in the law-enforcement community during the last 10 years because at best, much of what he has disseminated is of dubious value, and at worst (it's) potentially harmful," Aveni said.

However, Grossman and the police aren't the only ones alarmed by recent studies showing what researchers call a "casual link" between violent games and real-world violence.

"There is a growing body of evidence that points to a link between violent videos and aggressive behavior in children," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) at a press conference for the annual release of the MediaWise Video Game Report Card.

Later that day, Lieberman and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) introduced The Family Entertainment Protection Act, which proposes to ban the sale of Mature-rated games to minors.

One longtime researcher of media violence says he's not surprised by growing concerns surrounding the $10 billion games industry.

"The research is getting larger and stronger that shows violence in games increases aggressive behavior in minors," said Iowa State University social psychologist Craig A. Anderson (.pdf).

Grossman has told audiences a way to remedy violent media is to challenge the producers and distributors in court -- a tactic advocated by Miami-based attorney Jack Thompson.

Thompson's relentless public-relations war against the video-game industry is becoming the stuff of legend. He once referred to the proliferation of certain Sony games in the United States as "Pearl Harbor 2."

Earlier this year, Thompson told Wired News he will someday challenge the video-game industry with a wrongful-death lawsuit, forcing it to reign in game developers, pay millions in punitive damages and crack down on retailers that don't enforce Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings.

"Look at the tobacco industry," he said. "We're pioneers at this. The first time you don't succeed...."