IACP 2018 preview: Lessons from school attacks that almost happened

Averted acts of school violence contain invaluable information regarding the strengths or potential weaknesses of current policies, procedures and training


Chief (ret.) Frank Straub, Director of Strategic Studies for the National Police Foundation, will lead a panel discussion on Learning Lessons from School Attacks That Almost Happened on Saturday, October 6, at the 125th International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. The National Police Foundation is currently leading an NIJ-funded initiative to help prevent further death and injury from violent attacks in schools nationwide, by recognizing and studying the attacks that are averted and to share the lessons learned with those involved in school safety.

Every year across the nation, acts of school violence are prevented at all levels of education by students, parents, school personnel, law enforcement and others. We believe there is information to be learned from these averted acts, and that the lessons can help other schools protect children and staff.

The National Police Foundation – a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to improving policing through innovation and science – developed and maintains the Averted School Violence (ASV) database, with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the National Institute of Justice, to study averted acts of school violence. These averted incidents contain invaluable information regarding the strengths or potential weaknesses of current policies, procedures, training and other violence prevention mechanisms.

The ASV database allows practitioners to both submit and view information on incidents of averted and/or completed acts of school violence. The information shared on incidents of school violence is analyzed to identify best, and more important, “next” practices to prevent and respond to acts of violence in our schools and on our college campuses.

Police officers stand watch as spectators are bussed from a shooting incident at a practice football game between Dwyer and Palm Beach Central High School Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, in Wellington, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Police officers stand watch as spectators are bussed from a shooting incident at a practice football game between Dwyer and Palm Beach Central High School Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, in Wellington, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

The National Police Foundation has conducted preliminary analysis on 51 averted and 51 completed school violence incidents and has two forthcoming publications with comprehensive data and recommendations.

Here are five lessons identified:

1. Establish relationships

Schools and law enforcement must have a strong, pre-established relationship and open lines of communication before an attack occurs. In one incident of averted violence shared in the ASV database, a school counselor notified a school resource officer (SRO) when she became aware of information related to a potentially dangerous student from a source outside of the school. This SRO had previously built a relationship with the counselor and other school staff members, and they were comfortable coming to the SRO immediately. The person that shared this report said that the counselor’s concerns could have been easily swept under the rug had there not been a pre-existing relationship with the SRO.

2. Encourage students to report threats

Students who hear threats of violence from other students should take them seriously and report them to school or law enforcement authorities immediately. Based on our preliminary study, in over half of the 51 averted incidents we studied, students were the first to discover another student’s plans for school violence.

3. Educate students on signs of violence, depression

Students should be trained not only to recognize threats of violence, but also to recognize signs of suicide or depression.

4. Take threats seriously

Potential perpetrators of violence frequently make direct threats or openly discuss their violent plans with others. In some instances, they use social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat to share violent plans or thoughts, or to express disdain for a school/situation. A school violence plot was discovered in 17 averted incidents when the perpetrator directly told somebody about their violent plans/threats and in 10 averted incidents when they mentioned their violent plans on social media.

5. Monitor social media

Parents should monitor their child’s social media accounts and remain aware of their general Internet use for any concerning searches or violent material.

Please consider sharing information about attacks that have been averted at your school or in your jurisdiction at www.asvnearmiss.org. By submitting a report through the ASV system, you are providing other practitioners with the valuable insight and lessons learned that may help them prevent an attack at their school. We encourage you to provide information on averted incidents, but to also view reports from others in the ASV Report Library

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