COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) School Safety Working Group has just released its latest recommendations on school safety. We found this report to be full of insightful data and resources, so we share highlights of the in-depth report in this post.
Emergencies can happen at any time. While we can never be completely safe or immune, here are the top ten recommended actions that you can take today that will improve your chances to prevent and handle them effectively.
- Comprehensive School Safety Assessment
A detailed risk assessment underpins a school’s entire security planning and operations. The assessment must recognize the greatest probable threats and impacts to be effective. Because each school district and school have different conditions and demographics, it is necessary to identify the unique vulnerabilities of each. A multidisciplinary team with an assigned leader should develop the risk assessment and an in-depth safety plan.
This risk assessment should be considered a living document. Therefore, it is critical to review and update it annually based on feedback from all stakeholders and changes in school policies.
- School Climate
An environment of trust and respect between students and staff is fundamental to open communication lines. When there is a connection between students and staff, students are more likely to look out for each other. Building a climate where students feel welcome, cared for, and included is imperative for students to feel comfortable reporting threats of violence from their peers to adults.
- Campus, Building, and Classroom Security
Based on the security gaps identified in the risk assessment, schools should develop a security plan to secure campuses, buildings, and classrooms, using the best technologies. Since each site has unique vulnerabilities and circumstances, customize technology to address these distinctive needs without sacrificing the school’s primary educational and developmental missions.
Student input into security plans is invaluable. Their insight on buildings and situations comes from an entirely different lens than staff and law enforcement. Therefore, they may identify previously unknown security gaps.
Anonymous Reporting Systems
A U.S. Secret Service study revealed that in 81% of active shooter incidents, at least one person knew of the attacker’s plan, and in 59% of incidents, more than one person knew. These are staggering stats of what could have been.
The COPS and the Federal Commission recommend that schools and school districts establish anonymous reporting systems for the school community to use to convey information about concerning behaviors.
Anonymous Reporting Systems (ARS) effectively identify and communicate potential targeted violence in schools and suicidal threats. Comprehensive ARS enables individuals to use an app, website, or telephone hotline to gather and submit actionable information such as screenshots, photos, audio, and video to intervene and assist those who may want to harm others or themselves. In addition, these systems educate all school community members and law enforcement on threats of self-harm, suicide, or violence and on how to share information with officials, allowing intervention before an act occurs.
- Coordination with First Responders
A call always goes out to local law enforcement and emergency medical services (EMS) when a critical incident occurs. Preparation makes all the difference in ensuring that their response is quick and effective. COPS recommends that law enforcement and schools work together to develop the risk assessment and create emergency policies, operations planning, training, ongoing drills, and regular evaluations. Roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined, communicated, and practiced. School community members must know what to expect from law enforcement during an incident and vice versa.
- Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management Team
Receiving information on a potential threat is the first step of a three-step process of identifying, assessing, and managing. Then, when threats are received and time is allowed, a comprehensive evaluation should be made to corroborate the risk, followed by developing a plan to mitigate the danger.
A multidisciplinary team of teachers, school administrators, school resource officers (SRO), and mental health professionals should conduct the threat assessments. If a school does not have SRO, a member of law enforcement should be assigned to be part of the team. In addition, threat team members should attend training in threat assessment.
Automated, step-by-step systems are available to guide teams through a school’s threat assessment process to ensure consistent and compliant assessments, generate better-informed decisions, and develop more impactful protection plans.
Schools using a behavioral threat approach reported less bullying and a greater willingness by students to seek help for bullying and threats of violence.
- School-Based Law Enforcement
SROs are typically sworn-in law enforcement officers trained in school policing and help build a trusted climate in a school setting. These valuable resources have also been intricate in mitigating risk and interfering in dangerous school situations.
For schools where SROs are not feasible, COPS recommends that schools seek options to help fill this role, such as hiring retired law enforcement, contracting off-duty law enforcement officers, or private security.
Also, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) is necessary for school staff and law enforcement to understand the roles of each in the case of a critical event.
Training in implicit bias, de-escalation, trauma-informed investigations, adolescent behavior, crisis intervention, and active shooter situations is crucial for all law enforcement in schools.
- Mental Health Resources
Most individuals who have conducted school attacks have not had a formal mental health evaluation. But most have exhibited suicidal attempts or threats before the attack, and over half had a documented record of feelings of extreme depression or desperation, demonstrating a dramatic gap in mental health resources in our country. Schools can play a significant role in closing that gap and preventing youth’s emotional, mental, and behavioral issues by identifying and supporting students with mental health issues. These actions will, in turn, help reduce school violence.
Increasing the number of school professionals on-site to support students is critical. Also crucial is creating partnerships with government, social service, and community-based agencies to help students who require more intensive mental health support.
Lockdown drills are now part of every school’s emergency planning routine. Customizing drills to unique circumstances is the norm in schools across the country. These options approach plans must be age-appropriate and communicated to the school community. Implementing drills throughout the school year creates a muscle memory of what actions students and staff take during an attack. Routinely schools are alternating assailant drills with fire, emergency, and weather drills.
Schools have moved away from traditional coded terminology, such as Code Red, to identify an emergency and have implemented simple language commands for easier understanding and less communication.
The recommendation is that schools create and practice lockdown and evacuation procedures, including where students should go during emergencies and methods to transport students to these safe-havens.
- Social Media Monitoring
School-age children spend loads of time on social media. Unfortunately, aside from being a communication vehicle, online communities bring out an unsavory side of people. On social media, individuals are more apt to reach out and hurt another than they would in person. Surveys cited by the Federal Commission revealed that 34% of youth reported being cyberbullied. Consequently, tracking youths’ communication on social media is vital to a school safety plan.
Social media alerting monitoring systems can constantly scan messages with a school or district can identify potential threats, at-risk behavior, and cyberbullying.
Download the complete report below.