Tightening the Gap: Advocating for Law Enforcement and School Personnel for Identifying Students at Risk of Violence

Tightening the Gap: Advocating for Law Enforcement and School Personnel for Identifying Students at Risk of Violence

Maria Ray Langheim (University of Illinois at Springfield, USA) and Ann Maureen McCaughan (University of Illinois at Springfield, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6246-7.ch007

Abstract

Between January 1, 2012 and January 30, 2018 alone there were 27 school shooting incidents, accounting for 62 victim deaths, 108 victims injured, countless witness and community members affected, and 10 assailants who committed suicide or were killed by a police officer during the attack, at schools or campuses across the United States (U.S.). Clearly, further intervention and prevention strategies are necessary for school personnel and law enforcement, as well as our greater communities, in reducing instances of school violence. Identification of individuals and groups who are at higher risk for violence toward self or others is one essential step in prevention. When prevention is unsuccessful, a student may begin down a path toward violence, eventually posing a threat to the extent that identifying and intervening becomes necessary. Encouraging law enforcement and school personnel to become well-versed in both, so that they might successfully support each other's efforts and develop common goals, is essential to successful communication regarding students and groups of concern.
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Introduction

School violence continues to be an issue that is at the forefront of our national discourse and concern. Between January 1, 2012, and January 30, 2018, there were 27 school shooting incidents, accounting for 62 victim deaths, 108 victims injured, countless witness and community members affected, and 10 assailants who committed suicide or were killed by a police officer during the attacks at schools or campuses across the United States (U.S.).1 Violence toward others is just one form that school violence can take; suicide continues to be an epidemic that faces youth in the US, and along with homicide, is considered to be a school-associated violent death when “[it] occurs on school property, on the way to/from school, or during or on the way to/from a school-sponsored event” (CDC, n.d.). Further intervention and prevention protocols are necessary for school personnel and law enforcement, as well as our greater communities, in reducing instances of school violence. Identification of individuals and groups who are at higher risk for violence toward self or others is one essential step in prevention. When prevention is unsuccessful, a student may begin down a path toward violence, eventually posing a threat to the extent that identifying and intervening becomes necessary. Encouraging law enforcement and school personnel to become well-versed in both, so that they might successfully support each other’s efforts and develop common goals, is essential to successful communication regarding students and groups of concern. Prevention can be achieved by training teachers in the risk factors described in this chapter, identifying a group (including a law enforcement officer and mental health professionals if available) of people to review student’s risk factors or threats so information is not kept in silo, have schools develop specific policies on who staff should notify when risk factors or specific threats are identified, determine what resources are available within the school and local community that could help assist these students or threats, and develop plans to assist and monitor the student and/or threat going forward; schools can make a tangible difference in safety.

When schools and law enforcement receive information that someone may pose a targeted violent threat in the future, communication and responsibility roles can become unclear (US Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], 2016). A threat assessment approach, which was originally developed by the United States (U.S.) Department of Secret Service to aid in the protection of national public officials, has been supported in the research (see Fein, Vossekuil, & Holden, 1995; O’Toole, 2000; Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum, & Modzeleski, 2002) as best practice when it comes to investigating and evaluating threats and concerning behaviors in a school setting. Threat assessment is a means to identify who has an idea or intention of carrying out an incident of targeted violence, assessing whether they pose a risk and can carry out the threat, and managing the threat the individual poses (FBI, 2016). In 2002, the U.S. Department of Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education released a document that guided schools regarding how to manage threatening situations in schools and how to create a safer school climate (Fein, et al., 2002). In 2013, Virginia was the first state requiring K-12 schools to have a Behavioral Threat Assessment Team (Cornell, et. al., 2017). In 2016, New Mexico also integrated behavioral threat assessment team requirements in general school safety legislative mandates. In 2015, the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation (2017), an organization looking to create a national movement to protect children from gun violence, adopted and continues to utilize a prevention-based threat assessment training called Safety Assessment and Intervention. Behavioral threat assessment processes have also been found to have no racial disparities in their application, indicating their appropriateness for culturally diverse populations (Cornell, et al., 2016). However, outside of Virginia and the Sandy Hook Promise, threat assessments are not always well understood and are infrequently utilized despite the number documentation and research supporting it as one of most effective means of preventing targeted violence (Fein, et al., 2002; Cornell & Maeng, 2017).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Threat Assessment: A systematic approach to determining if a person is making or posing a threat.

Posing a Threat: When a person has the idea, plan, and supplies to carry out an act of targeted violence.

Path to Violence: Steps a person would take as they work toward carrying out an act of targeted violence.

Behavioral Threat Assessment Team: A team of individuals within a school from different disciplines that evaluates threats to determine if the threats are credible and if the person is able to carry out the threat.

Risk Factors: Mental, emotional, or behavioral patterns that contribute to a person’s risk for violence toward self or other.

School Violence: Incidents that occur at, on the way to or from, or at a school-sponsored activity.

School Shooter: A person with the intent to harm more than one person at a school, that is not simply used as the site of opportunity to carry out gang, drug, or interpersonal violence.

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