According to the U.S. Secret Service, there is no specific profile of a student attacker. Recent history shows that acts have been carried out by both males and females, and both socially-isolated loners as well popular and well-liked students. Some have been ‘A’ students, while others have been poor performers. Without a profile to identify at-risk students before they act, how do we decrease the risk of students engaging in harm to themselves or the school community?
Prevention and early intervention are paramount
The National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) has found that students display a variety of observable concerning behaviors as they escalate toward violence. A Threat Assessment Model is the best practice for intervening and supporting these students experiencing distress. It can provide the student with the help they need and de-escalate a situation before it becomes violent.
The primary objective of a Threat Assessment Model is to identify students of concern, assess their risk for engaging in violence or other harmful activities, and implement intervention strategies to manage that risk. It is not to issue discipline or introduce students to the criminal justice system. Providing at-risk students with the help they need before violent actions occur is a critical step in ensuring positive outcomes for both the student and the community.
Latest NTAC research and findings
According to the 2021 NTAC report, “Averting Targeted School Violence,” students who plotted school attacks shared many similarities with students who perpetrated school attacks. Both groups had:
- A history of school discipline and contact with law enforcement.
- Experienced bullying or had mental health issues, frequently involving depression and suicidality.
- Used drugs or alcohol.
- Adverse childhood experiences that had impacted them include substance abuse in the home, violence or abuse, incarceration of a parent, or parental mental health issues.
- Intended or committed suicide as part of the school attack.
Additionally, at-risk students exhibit a variety of observable concerning behaviors as they escalate toward violence. The 2019 USSS NTAC report, “Analysis of Targeted School Violence,” analyzed 41 incidents of targeted school violence occurring at K-12 schools from 2008 to 2017 and found that most attackers communicated threats or intentions to attack that elicited concern from others. This disturbing or concerning behavior was observed by peers, school personnel, family members, or others in their community. In fact,
- As many as 93% of students that engaged in violent acts such as school shootings exhibited concerning behavior before the attack.
- In 81% of the incidents, at least one other person had some knowledge of the attacker’s plan.
However, the sad truth was that most who observed these behaviors did not take action. The reasons included fear, disbelief, or misjudgment of the situation.
Threat Assessment Identifies ‘At Risk’ Students
Open communication across the school community is key for school safety and health. A Threat Assessment Model encourages open communication and identifies tangible steps that can be taken to prevent violence from occurring in the first place. In addition, anyone coming forward with information must be confident that those in positions of authority will take the input seriously and investigate and intervene as necessary.
A Threat Assessment Model creates an engaging, impactful group process that involves the entire school community (students, teachers, staff, local organizations, and families). Enhancing school safety using a Threat Assessment Model, as identified by the NTAC, involves the following eight steps:
Step 1: Establish a multidisciplinary threat assessment team
Step 2: Define prohibited and concerning behaviors
Step 3: Establish and provide training on a central reporting system
Step 4: Determine the threshold for law enforcement intervention
Step 5: Establish assessment procedures
Step 6: Develop risk management options
Step 7: Create and promote a safe school climate
Step 8: Provide training for all stakeholders
The primary objective of the process is to provide at-risk students with the help they need and work to ensure positive outcomes for the student and community. By providing authorities and school personnel with the information needed and following a set of practices and protocols, at-risk students can get the help they need, and violent acts can be avoided. It is the best practice for reducing the likelihood that any student will cause harm or be harmed at school.
Targeted school violence is preventable. Learn more about STOPit Solutions by downloading The Ultimate Guide to Selecting & Optimizing Your Anonymous Reporting System.