What police can learn from school violence close calls
Early and transparent communication among all who are likely to be involved in a school shooting incident is a primary factor in keeping schools safe
The National Police Foundation’s Center for Mass Violence Response Studies recently released two reports through the COPS Office - A Preliminary Report on the Police Foundation's Averted School Violence Database by Jeffrey A. Daniels and A Comparison of Averted and Completed School Attacks from the Police Foundation Averted School Violence Database by Peter Langman and Frank Straub. (Both reports available in full below.)
The National Police Foundation, in collaboration with the COPS Office, implemented the Averted School Violence (ASV) database to provide a platform for sharing information about averted incidents of violence in elementary, secondary and higher education institutions.
The ASV project defines an incident of averted school violence as a violent attack planned with or without the use of a firearm that was prevented before any injury or loss of life occurred.
The Daniels’ report analyzes 51 averted incidents of school violence selected from the ASV database. The report begins with a case study of one averted attack and then details findings on the 51 averted incidents.
The Langman and Straub report compares 51 completed with 51 averted incidents of school violence from the ASV database and analyzes both sets. It includes findings on the demographics of individuals who plan attacks, victims’ demographics in completed attacks and community characteristics.
Recommendations to improve school safety
Both reports provide important findings and recommendations to minimize school violence and improve student and school safety.
Some of the key findings include:
- School shootings can be averted when parents, school authorities and students themselves take seriously the signals indicating potential violence from troubled youths, and communicate their concerns as quickly as possible.
- The reluctance to tell authorities or others their fears is a result of the “code of silence” that prevails among many young people who fear being called snitchers. School authorities can go a long way toward puncturing students’ concerns by helping them make “a distinction between ‘snitching’” (which is reporting to get somebody in trouble) and reporting a concern (which is intended to help others).
- Increased knowledge about mental health and the signs of psychological distress could have resulted in better intervention by parents, teachers and others. In addition, the stigma regarding mental health treatment has been a barrier that has kept people from getting help. Efforts to destigmatize mental health treatment should be a national priority, along with increasing available services and making sure they are accessible and affordable to all who need them.
- Punishment is not prevention. The lesson here is that when students are suspended and prohibited from being on school property and this is not communicated to school personnel, the students can return to the school, enter and commit acts of violence.
Key recommendations include:
- Maintain trusting relationships with students to detect potential signs of distress and physical aggression, and educate students themselves about warning signs;
- Ensure that guns are stored and locked safely in the home;
- Parents should not hesitate to check diaries, papers or social media used by young people who have displayed problematic behavior.
- Develop effective first-response plans to hand potential school emergencies.
The overall conclusion of both papers is that early and transparent communication among all who are likely to be involved in a school shooting incident is a primary factor in keeping schools safe.
“Safety is a community concern,” according to Langman and Straub. “When more people take action to maintain safety, the more likely a community is to prevent an act of violence.”
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