Many people who have had an experience with cults because a relative became involved have been disillusioned when they have asked law enforcement for help. The response they usually get is that there is not much that can be done unless there is illegal activity. The concern is that the police may be interfering with the freedom of religion. In the present day, police departments are successfully using problem-solving models through the Community Policing model. This model can also be implemented when a questionable group comes to the attention of local police departments.
A simple approach that officers can take is to visit a group and let them know who they are and that they are there to assist them. They can let the group know that the department is there to protect them from those who might dislike the group or who possibly threaten to cause harm. The connection that results could possibly cause authorities to become aware of the group’s behavior, so that the authorities may be able to observe any changes that might occur relative to the group that could signal a violation of the law or even harm to the members.
Law enforcement, both local and federal, most often become involved with cults after a tragedy occurs, such as suicide, involvement in financial fraud, or a case that affects children through neglect or abuse, including sexual violations. Most of these groups probably will never do anything that attracts the attention of law enforcement. The problem is that illegal activities that are not known to anyone outside the group do go on because of the group’s isolation from the rest of society. This kind of situation is one in which officers become effective in gathering intelligence by getting to know the group. The result is that officers may become aware of illegal activities. I personally had members of a group in southern Colorado reach out to me because they did not know anyone one else outside the group. Through this connection, authorities learned that children had died, they believe, because medicine was denied as a result of the group’s belief that to take medicine reflected a lack of faith.
An article on cultic groups in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin of September 2000 stated accurately that the potential for violence on behalf of members of biblically driven cults is determined almost exclusively by the whims of the cult leader. Therefore, effective intelligence and analysis of such cults requires an extensive understanding of the cult leader.
To address the concern of authorities about violating the protection of individuals’ freedom of religion, officers need to be concerned only with behavior that may be harmful to people both inside and outside the group. Granted, the beliefs may be the cause of the harmful behavior, but only the behavior is the cause for concern.