By Tara Gibson - February 6, 2020
The Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center has produced a report which breaks down targeted attacks on K-12 schools by currently-enrolled students or by students who recently left the school. The report identifies similar pre-attack behaviors to a report produced fifteen years earlier.
Following the Columbine School shooting in 1999, the Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) and the Department of Education started the Safe School Initiative - a program designed to study targeted attacks on K-12 schools by current and former students in order to answer the questions “Could we have known that these attacks were being planned?” and “What can be done to prevent future attacks from occurring?”
The result was a comprehensive analysis of thirty-seven targeted school attacks from 1974 to 2000 in which particular attention was paid to identifying detectable pre-attack behaviors. The conclusion was that there was no simple way to explain why the attacks had occurred, nor a simple solution. However, the analysis found sufficient shared pre-attack behaviors to suggest future attacks might be preventable. The ten key findings were:
In the years after the publication of the Safe School Initiative report, the NTAC held training sessions for more than 100,000 personnel with a responsibility for school safety - i.e. from individual schools, school districts, law enforcement, and mental health services. The NTAC also published an “Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence” which was distributed to 40,000 public school districts and private schools across the country.
Unfortunately, the efforts of the NTAC appear to have been unsuccessful. According to the Center's latest “Analysis of Targeted School Violence” there were forty-one targeted attacks on K-12 schools by current or former students between 2008 and 2017 - more than double the rate of the previous analysis. Notably, the latest analysis doesn't include the tragic events Parkland and Santa Fe in 2018. The attackers in both cases were current or former students.
In the majority of cases, the students or former students who conducted the attacks displayed similar detectable pre-attack behaviors to those identified previously. All of the attackers had experienced a personal stressor prior to the attack (a significant loss or personal failure), 80 percent had been bullied at home or at school, and each of the attackers exhibited between two and eight detectable pre-attack behaviors - the average number being five.
Beyond School Resource Officers and private security guards, surprisingly few of the forty-one K-12 schools at which attacks took place had security measures in place to protect students. Only fourteen had security cameras installed, seven had alert systems to accelerate lockdown or evacuation procedures, and three had magnetometers to detect weapons being brought into school. The report notes these were not being used at the times the attacks took place.
None of the K-12 schools had anonymous tip services in place for students to report pre-attack behaviors, and although seven schools had procedures in place to notify school staff of threatening or concerning student behavior, these consisted of phone numbers, email addresses, and paper forms through which the school could be contacted. The Office of Justice Programs’ National Criminal Justice Reference Service subsequently published a guide for implementing school tip services.
Anonymous tip services are proven to work - not only to prevent targeted K-12 school attacks, but also to address issues such as bullying, self-harm, suicide, and drug abuse. If you would like more information about implementing an anonymous tip service in your school or school district, do not hesitate to get in touch and speak with a member of our school safety team in order to organize a demonstration of our anonymous tip texting software.
Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!
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