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Threat Assessment and Threat Management in the Schools Threat Assessment Workgroup

Threat Assessment and Threat Management in the Schools Threat Assessment Workgroup

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Threat Assessment and Threat Management in the Schools Threat Assessment Workgroup

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  1. Threat Assessment and Threat Management in the Schools Threat Assessment Workgroup National Association of School Psychologists Annual Convention 2006 Anaheim, CA

  2. Jill D. Sharkey, PhD, NCSP University of California, Santa Barbara Linda M. Kanan, PhD, NCSP Cherry Creek School District Kathy S. Sievering, MA, MA, NCSP Jefferson County School District Gina Hurley, EdD, NCSP Barnstable School District Introduction of Speakers

  3. How Much Violence Occurs in U.S. Schools? • High profile cases of school shootings have skewed public perceptions of the level of violence in schools. • School violence is declining, not increasing. • Over a ten-year period (1992-93 to 2001-02) there were 93 student homicides, or 9.3 per year.

  4. Causes of Death in Young PersonsAges 5 to 24 Source: National Vital Statistics Report, 1998 and National School Safety Center

  5. Serious Discipline Violations in U.S. Schools “Serious” means expulsion, transfer or suspension of 5 or more days Source: National Center for Education Statistics (2004) Data for 1999-2000 school year

  6. Student-Perpetrated Homicides in U.S. Schools:1992-93 to 2002-03 Cases on school grounds during school day recorded by National School Safety Center.

  7. Understanding Student Violence Troubled students Students who engage in general violence Targeted school shooters (Kanan, L. & Sievering, K.)

  8. The Expansion of Zero Tolerance No Toy Guns No Nail clippers No Plastic utensils No Finger-pointing No Jokes No Drawings No Rubber band shooting No Accidental violations No Drugs No Guns No Knives No Threats

  9. What is Threat Assessment? • Threat assessment is a process of evaluating the risk of violence posed by someone who has communicated an intent to harm someone. • Threat assessment considers the context and circumstances surrounding a threat in order to uncover any evidence that indicates the threat is likely to be carried out. • Threat assessment includes interventions designed to manage and reduce the risk of violence.

  10. How Does Threat Assessment Differ From Zero Tolerance? • Threat assessment considers the context and meaning of a student’s behavior, not just the behavior itself. • Threat assessment is designed to determine the seriousness or danger of a student’s behavior, and to respond accordingly. • Threat assessment permits flexibility in how schools respond and does not require the same severe consequence for all infractions

  11. What are the Purposes of Threat Assessment? • Reduce the risk of violence. • Identify educational needs and support services for students who have made a threat. • Reduce legal liability by following reasonable and accepted practices for violence prevention.

  12. Threat Assessment Process as a Continuum • Threat assessment inquiry is carried out by a school team • Threat assessment investigation is carried out by a law enforcement agency • There may be several “right” ways to conduct a threat assessment • Not all threat assessments will be referred to law enforcement U.S. Secret Service, Threat Assessment in Schools, p. 44

  13. When Should a Threat Assessment be Conducted? • When information about a student’s behavior and communications passes an agreed upon threshold of concern… U.S. Secret Service Threat Assessment in Schools Guide, p. 48

  14. Who Conducts Threat Assessment? • A multidisciplinary team consisting of respected members of the school faculty or administration. • School resource officer assigned to the school (if available) • A mental health professional- School psychologist, social worker, guidance counselor • Other professional-teacher, nurse, etc. • Consider using your pre-existing team U.S. Secret Service, Threat Assessment in Schools, p. 37

  15. What is Involved in a School Threat Assessment Process? • Identification of threats made by students. • Evaluation of seriousness of threat and danger it poses to others, recognizing that all threats are not the same (e.g., toy guns are not dangerous). • Intervention to reduce risk of violence. • Follow-up to assess intervention results.

  16. What is a Threat? • A threat is an expression of intent to harm someone. • Threats may be verbal, written, artistic or gestured. • Threats may be direct or indirect, and need not be communicated to the intended victim or victims. (“I’m going to get him.”) • Weapon possession is presumed to be a threat unless circumstances clearly indicate otherwise. (“I forgot my knife was in my backpack.”) • When in doubt, assume it is a threat.

  17. What is a Threat? Direct Threat -statement of clear, explicit intent to harm Third Party - violence of intent to harm another Indirect Threat -violence is implied-threat is phrased tentatively Conditional Threat -made contingent on set of circumstances Veiled Threat -vague & subject to interpretation Report Threats Verbatim

  18. Examples of Verbal Threats Direct • “I’m going to shoot you with my 9mm Glock after school” Third Party • “I am going to get him, wait and see.” Indirect: • “If I wanted to, I could kill everyone at this school.” Conditional • “If you don’t give me an “A” on my report card, I will shoot you” Veiled • “It’s understandable why Columbine happened”


  20. Two Government Studies Recommend School-Based Threat Assessment Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education report (2002) Available at FBI report (2000)Available at

  21. FBI Report Discourages Profiling of School Shooters “…trying to draw up a catalogue or “checklist” of warning signs to detect a potential school shooter can be shortsighted, even dangerous. Such lists, publicized by the media, can end up unfairly labeling many nonviolent students as potentially dangerous or even lethal. In fact, a great many adolescents who will never commit violent acts will show some of the behaviors or personality traits included on the list.” (FBI report p 2-3)

  22. Profiling Does Not Work • School shootings are too rare. • Profiles make false predictions. • Profiles generate stereotypes. • Profiles don’t solve problems. • Be careful that “warning signs” are not used to profile students.

  23. FBI Recommends Threat Assessment Approach “Although the risk of an actual shooting incident at any one school is very low, threats of violence are potentially a problem at any school. Once a threat is made, having a fair, rational, and standardized method of evaluating and responding to threats is critically important.” (FBI report p. 1)

  24. Incidents of violence were rarely sudden, impulsive acts Other people knew about the attacker’s idea & plan to attack Most did not threaten their target directly before attack There is no accurate or useful profile of students who engage in targeted school violence Most attackers engaged in some behavior that caused others concern or indicated a need for help Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failure Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others Most had access to and had used weapons before the attack In many cases, students were involved in some capacity Most attacks were stopped by means other than law enforcement Lessons Learned: Final Report & Findings of the Safe School Initiative, 2002

  25. US Secret Service/ US Department of Education Recommendations for Threat Assessment • Create a planning team to develop a threat assessment process. • Identify roles for school personnel. • Clarify role of law enforcement. • Conduct threat assessments of students who make threats of violence.

  26. Key Points About Threat Assessment • Threat assessment stresses the examination of specific behaviors directly linked to committing a violent act • Threat assessment aims to determine how serious the threat is and then what should be done about it. • Threat assessment is ultimately concerned with whether the student poses a threat, not whether the student made a threat • When in doubt as to whether the student’s actions constitute a threat, investigate the behavior as a threat

  27. 6 Principles of Threat Assessment • Targeted violence is the result of an understandable process, not a random or spontaneous act. • Consider the interaction of person, situation, setting, & target. • Maintain an investigative, skeptical mindset. • Focus on facts and behaviors, not traits. • Use information from all possible sources. • Makinga threat is not the same as posing a threat. Ask “Is this student on a path toward an attack?”

  28. Secret Service Threat Assessment Inquiry 1. Gather facts about the student, the situation, and possibly the targets 2. Obtain information about the student • Background & present situation • Behaviors, motives, target selection • School information • Collateral School Interviews • Parent/Guardian Interviews • Interview with Student of Concern

  29. 11 Key Questions • What are the student’s motives or goals? • Any communications of intent to attack? • Any inappropriate interest in other attacks, weapons, or mass violence? • Any attack-related behaviors? Making a plan, acquiring weapons, casing sites, etc. • Does student have capacity to attack?

  30. 11 Key Questions (cont.) 6. Is there hopelessness or despair? 7. Any trusting relationship with an adult? 8. Is violence regarded as way to solve a problem? Any peer influences? 9. Are student’s words consistent with actions? 10. Are others concerned about student? 11. What circumstances might trigger violence?

  31. No Magic Formula or Crystal Ball There is no formula, prescription, or checklist that will predict or prevent all violent acts. School authorities must make reasoned judgments based on the facts of each individual situation, and monitor situations over time.

  32. Will Threat Assessment Work? • Many schools have developed their own threat assessment guidelines and procedures following the recommendations from the US Department of Education and the US Secret Service. • One study has developed and field-tested guidelines for schools to use in responding to student threats of violence. This study was conducted by the Virginia Youth Violence Project of the University of Virginia.

  33. 434-924-8929

  34. Virginia Study Design • Researchers and group of school personnel (administrators, support staff, and law enforcement) developed a set of threat assessment guidelines. • Threat assessment teams in two school divisions (approx. 16,000 students) were trained using a standard manual. Participants were from 35 schools K-12. Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. (2006). Guidelines for Responding to student threats of violence. Longmont, CO: Sopris.


  36. Team roles in Virginia Model Schools may further specify team roles and include other staff to meet local needs. (Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  37. How Does Threat Assessment Begin? • All school staff should be trained and prepared to identify and report threats to the school principal or designee. • Threat assessments are usually initiated by the principal or assistant principal as part of the disciplinary process. • The principal consults with other team members. • Team members become involved depending on the complexity of the case. (Adapted from Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  38. Threat is substantive. Threat is serious. Virginia Model-Threat Reported to Principal Step 1. Evaluate Threat. Step 2. Decide if threat is clearly transient or substantive. Threat is clearly transient. Step 3. Respond to transient threat. Step 4. Decide if the substantive threat is serious or very serious. Threat is very serious. Step 5. Respond to serious substantive threat. Step 6. Conduct Safety Evaluation. Step 7. Follow up on action plan. (Cornell, D. & Sheras, P., 2006)

  39. Virginia Study ModelStep 1.Evaluate the threat. • Obtain an account of the threat and the context from the student and witnesses. • Write down the exact threat. • Obtain student’s explanation of the threat’s meaning and his/her intentions. • Obtain witness perceptions of the threat’s meaning. (Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  40. Often are rhetorical remarks, not genuine expressions of intent to harm. At worst, express temporary feelings of anger or frustration. Usually can be resolved on the scene or in the office. After resolution, the threat no longer exists. Usually end with an apology or clarification. Express intent to physically injure someone beyond the immediate situation. There is at least some risk the student will carry out the threat. Require that you take protective action, including warning intended victims and parents. May be legal violations and require police consultation. When in doubt, treat threats as substantive. Types of ThreatsTransient v. Substantive (Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  41. Virginia Study ModelStep 2.Transient or Substantive? • Determine whether the threat is transient or substantive. • The critical issue is not what the student threatened to do, but whether the student intends to carry out the threat. • When in doubt, proceed as if threat is substantive. (Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  42. Transient Versus Substantive Threats In Virginia Study SubstantiveThreats 30% TransientThreats 70% (Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  43. Substantive Threats:Factors to Consider • Credibility of student and willingness to acknowledge his or her behavior • Credibility of witness accounts • Age of student, consider developmental factors • Capability of student to carry out the threat • Student’s discipline history • When in doubt, treat threats as substantive. (Adapted from Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  44. Presumptive Indicators of Substantive Threats • Specific, plausible details. (“I am going to blast Mr. Johnson with my pistol.”) • Threat has been repeated over time. (“He’s been telling everyone he is going to get you.”) • Threat reported as a plan or evidence of planning (“Wait until you see what happens next Tuesday in the library.”) • Accomplices or recruitment of accomplices. • Physical evidence of intent (written plans, lists of victims, bomb materials, etc.) (Adapted from Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  45. Virginia Study ModelStep 3.Responses to a Transient Threat. • No need to take safety precautions. • See that threat is resolved through explanation, apology, making amends. • Provide counseling and skills education where appropriate. • Administer discipline if appropriate. (Adapted from Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  46. Threat Assessment is Distinct From Discipline • Threat assessment is concerned with future danger to others, discipline is concerned with consequences for behavior. • A threat may pose little danger, yet merit serious disciplinary consequences. • A threat may pose danger, yet disciplinary consequences would be inappropriate and exacerbate the problem

  47. 30 25 24 22 20 Number of transient threats 15 15 13 10 10 9 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 0 0 K 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 . Who Made Transient Threats? (Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  48. Virginia Study ModelStep 4.Serious or Very Serious Substantive Threat? • Substantive assault threats are classified serious. (“I’m gonna beat him up.”) • Substantive threats to kill, rape, or inflict very serious injury are classified very serious. (“I’m gonna break his arm.”) • Substantive threats involving a weapon are classified very serious. (Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)

  49. 20 15 13 11 Number of substantive threats 10 10 5 5 4 3 3 3 2 1 1 0 0 0 K 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 . Who Made Substantive Threats? (Cornell, D. & Sheras, P. 2006)