In July 2018, the United States Secret Service released a report on School Threat Assessment Teams. This report took a look back at several instances of school violence & school shootings, looked for commonalities, and proposed a number of recommendations primarily centered on establishing and using school threat assessment teams.
In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & CEO Bryan Strawser discusses the Secret Service’s report on school threat assessment teams, discusses best practices in implementing and managing such teams, and how the experts at Bryghtpath may be able to assist you and your organization.
We did an earlier podcast episode on a similar topic, Threat Management in Educational Institutions, that you may also find valuable.
Hi folks. Welcome back to the Managing Uncertainty podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, Principal and CEO at Bryghtpath and this week I want to talk about school safety, specifically a report that came out from the United States Secret Service last fall about enhancing school safety using a threat assessment model.
Within the United States Secret Service, there’s a center called the National Threat Assessment Center that writes a number of analytical reports on really certain aspects of crime that fall within the Secret Service’s jurisdiction or areas of interest. And in this case, the Secret Service was specifically charged back in 1998 in a joint effort with the US Department of Education to take a holistic look at school shootings across the country, school violence across the country, and come up with solutions, and thus was born the the NTAC or the National Threat Assessment Center at the Service.
Last fall in 2018 they released a new report titled Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model, and this is the report that I want to talk a little bit about on today’s podcast.
This report from the Secret Service aims to provide guidance for schools and communities to help identify students of concern, assess their risk level for engaging in violence and identify intervention strategies that can help them mitigate that risk as much as possible.
The report itself has some interesting data in it around school violence and school shootings and kind of similar incidents that are there. But I thought that their key recommendations were really the most interesting part of the report because it really got into here are some ways that we can make schools safer. Here are some things that we could do to identify potentially violent behavior and take some actions to mitigate or prevent those types of incidents from happening.
I think the most important insight coming out of the Secret Service’s report from July of 2018 is that there is no viable profile of a violent student. There’s no viable profile of a student that is going to perhaps engage in a school shooting or active shooter situation. And I know we hear a lot about various traits and behaviors that happen, but the Secret Service’s data shows that there’s really not a profile that you can use to identify this violent attacker. That student attackers have appeared in every practical form that you can think of. They’ve been male and female. They’ve been poor performers and overachievers with excellent grades. They’ve been those who are socially isolated and those who have been very popular with their peers. There’s simply no one size fits all approach that the Secret Service found in looking at about three decades worth of data on violence in schools.
What the Secret Service instead recommends in the report is that rather than focusing on a student’s personality or performance, that the threat assessment process in a K through 12 school focus instead on evaluating the student’s communicators and behaviors. Instead of comparing them to attackers of the past and trying to draw connections, it’s more important to pay attention to what they’re saying, what they are doing and any stressful experiences or particularly challenging period of time that they are going through.
The first and most important recommendation that’s in the report about creating a valuable and targeted violence prevention plan in a school is establishing a multidisciplinary threat assessment team. And we’ve talked about this before on the podcast in several episodes about having a threat assessment team that is made up of the various disciplines within your organization or educational institution that can document, can direct and manage and document all of the threat assessment policies, procedures and incidents moving forward.
The Secret Service report in this area makes three recommendations. The first is that the team should be made up of people in a variety of disciplines within the school community. This could be teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, school resource officers, and even third parties like a workplace violence consultant, a security consultant or even a mental health professional.
The point is that the more disciplines you have at the table that have knowledge and insight into violent behavior and student conduct and the educational institution in question, the more valuable the threat assessment team becomes because you’re having this conversation from the different disciplines, and you’re doing it together where you can all share those experiences.
The second recommendation they make around the threat assessment team is that the team should have one person who has specifically been designated to be the leader of the threat assessment team and, that that is typically a senior administrator within the school.
And then third, that policies and procedures need to be created that the team will follow. This will outline who will interview students of concern, who will talk with their classmates, teachers or parents, and who is also responsible for documenting the incident and all of the efforts and more.
So those are three recommendations the Secret Service has about establishing a multidisciplinary threat assessment team. The report goes on to mention a number of other recommendations that I think are more minor but also important. One very important one is establishing a central reporting mechanism so that regardless of how a threatening or concerning statement is made, there’s a method in place for students to report this conduct to the threat assessment team for the school or to a point of triage or escalation, who then brings in the threat assessment team if some basic criteria are met.
The point is that you want one way, you want a way to get everything into the funnel for the threat assessment team and we’re ensuring that everything gets to the threat assessment team as quickly as possible so that they can act upon the insight and reports that they’re given.
And then perhaps finally, but most critically, the Secret Service report recommends that everyone within the school environment, teachers, students, staff, and perhaps even parents are provided with training and guidance on recognizing behaviors of concern. It does mention that organizations like ATAP, the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, which I’m a member of, can help significantly in terms of training and providing best practice material that would help in this case.
The Secret Service report also mentions that there’s no one way to recognize that a student can be prone to violence. As we said, one of their most important insights is that there was no specific profile of a student that was going to engage in violent behavior or a violent attack. So there’s no way to recognize for certain that a student is prone to violence, but otherwise, there are warning signs that we can pay attention to you. And they specifically mentioned six warning signs that schools and parents and other students can watch for an incident in order to escalate or report that.
The first is a student who is prone to creating violent fantasy conduct. I’m sorry, violent fantasy content, such as short stories, essays, or other compositions or drawings and artwork that depicts violence.
The second are students who have anger problems, particularly students who have difficulty controlling one’s anger, have a frequent loss of temper, impulsivity, and then making threats.
The third warning sign is a fascination with weapons, particularly those that are most often used to kill people in similar incidents like semiautomatic rifles and certain pistols.
The fourth area of concern or behavior of concern would be bragging about one’s own ability to fight or combat in a way that is better than anyone else, and that could include things like a sharpshooter or military training, martial arts or more.
Their fifth suggestion is students who have suicidal ideation are ones who should be watched carefully, especially if they’ve expressed previously ideas of hopelessness and despair, or if they’d been prone to suicidal preparatory behavior, meaning that they’ve previously prepared for suicidal behavior.
And then lastly, students who articulate homicidal ideation, marked by a particular contempt or dislike of others. This often comes hand in hand with comments and gestures that might indicate some type of larger violent aggression.
Again, these are all potential warning signs, key warning signs that we should pay attention to. On their own, by themselves, they may not necessarily indicate anything that’s that unusual, but taken together can certainly indicate where we may have some concerns that should be reported.
The Secret Service also recommends that the threshold for the involvement of law enforcement are those that would quickly escalate to the point where the incident is too big for them to handle alone. And they recommend, particularly in schools, that specially trained school resource officers are involved in the threat assessment team.
So as always, if we can be of assistance to you as you build, grow and mature your program, particularly in the area of workplace violence, we’re here to help. Bryghtpath has built and managed workplace violence prevention programs for the Fortune 50, and we serve as the outside threat management experts with the dozens of organizations supporting their internal threat management and assessment teams.
Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at (612) 235-6435. Catch us next week for the next edition of the Managing Uncertainty podcast. Thanks for listening.