Law enforcement's role on school threat assessment teams

In light of yesterday’s shooting at Northern Illinois University, the following article we recently received is particularly timely. After reading it, be sure to read the collection of additional PoliceOne articles related to the increasingly common phenomenon of active shooters on school campuses.

By Jill Jacquin

“The bloodbath lasted nine minutes — enough time for Seung-Hui Cho to unleash 170 rounds from his two pistols, or about one shot every three seconds."  — Boston Globe, April 26, 2007, on the Virginia Tech Massacre that left 32 dead and 25 wounded

It has been 10 years since we began noticing an increase in school related homicides. Despite the implementation of numerous safety initiatives, school shootings continue. The most commonly asked question remains, “Why?”  Though school violence has always existed, the visual images of violent incidents over the past 10 years from Paducah, Ky.; Jonesboro, Ark.; and Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., are a remarkable contrast to the school fist fights of yesterday.   

In 1999, in the aftermath of Columbine, then-Attorney General Janet Reno stated, “Youth violence has been one of the greatest single crime problems we face in this country." (The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective, DOJ/FBI, 1999) Thoughts of perpetrators have been contemplated through journals, interviews and speculation. To offset past violence, many schools have established programs providing increased security, emergency management planning and more stringent rules and regulations. But the violence continues. 

So what is missing? Perhaps we need to refocus on the challenge that Reno gave us 10 years ago when she stated, “We must continue to search for those crucial behavioral and environmental indicators which suggest that a threat of school violence may be real.”

The best strategies in schools focus on awareness and prevention. School violence is not defined by a solitary act, yet many times school officials make decisions using a one-size-fits-all approach. Schools need to have a more comprehensive approach. Threat assessment is a comprehensive strategy that focuses on systematic procedures that use internal and external resources to collaboratively identify, assess, intervene and develop violence abatement plans. The threat-assessment process emphasizes partnership with those in local law enforcement who specialize in addressing abhorrent behaviors on a daily basis.

The current approach of many school administrators and emergency response personnel is planning for and responding to violence. Recent articles about “school shootings” center on the use of simulated exercises in schools across the United States [Read Preparing for a school shooting: 13 lessons learned during a training exercise]. I am a strong proponent of exercises and evaluation, but not at the expense of mitigation and prevention. Law enforcement needs to be utilized in the identification and assessment process at the onset of high-profile behaviors. Not only do they need to be involved in the threat assessment process, but they also need to be directly involved in defining the propensity of specific behaviors toward violence. Law enforcement personnel need to use their behavioral expertise to support active approaches that will diffuse the propensity for violence in our schools.

“If we use the threat assessment model judiciously – and we must, because of the risk of unfairly labeling and stigmatizing children is great — then we will be able to fight, and win, the war on two fronts," Reno said. "We will be in a position to help those children who show a propensity for violence, before they scar themselves (and others) forever. And we will be in a position to protect innocent school children before they become sense less victims."

School violence prevention programs become proactive with the inclusion of law enforcement. A comprehensive school threat assessment team must include educational, mental health and law enforcement personnel. It all comes down to the goal of violence prevention. With law enforcement leading threat-assessment programs, school emergency management will soon consist of prevention and preparedness rather than response and recovery.

About the author

Jill Jacquin is a speaker, educator, and certified Homeland Security Professional who, while working for the U.S. Postal Service, implemented a national training program for Threat Assessment Teams, Emergency Response Teams and regional organizational response and intervention teams. Her expertise in intervention has evolved over the past 25 years through personal, educational and organizational hands on experiences in crisis management, risk abatement, workplace violence, emergency management administration and organizational assessment. For more information about Jill’s threat assessment programs contact Public Grants & Training Initiatives at or call 847-875-3620.

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