The Importance of Threat Assessment

The following article by Paul Mascari is being re-posted from the December issue of the Wisconsin Association of School Business Official’s Taking Care of Business:

What did you know, when did you know it, and what did you do about it? Inevitably, these are the first questions asked of schools and law enforcement following any school shooting.

But how do you know and what do you do about it? If we could accurately predict violent acts, we would not be in the situation we are in with violence in our schools. There is considerable research on acts of mass violence, including school shootings, and the one thing they all have in common is the conclusion that there is no reliable profile for someone who will commit a school shooting.

So if mental health experts and law enforcement professionals cannot accurately predict violence, how can educators? The simple answer is – they can’t.

What schools can and should be doing is creating a threat assessment team and drafting a district-wide threat assessment policy. While the creation of School Safety Intervention Teams (SSIT) and attendance at mental health/threat assessment training is required under the most recent round of Wisconsin Department of Justice school safety grant funding, this is also the most effective proactive measure a district can take to keep schools safe.

Having served on and chaired numerous threat assessment teams, I can tell you the most important thing any team can do is meet regularly – especially when there is not a threat. Use the opportunity to discuss scenarios, review and refine policy, and take advantage of professional development opportunities as a team. While the training provided by the Office of School Safety is a significant first step, eight hours of training will not be enough for a team to be proficient if they do not take the initiative for further development.

States like Virginia have been mandating threat assessment in schools for years. A threat assessment model adapted to the K-12 setting, the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (VSTAG), was first developed in 2001 at the University of Virginia and has been the subject of numerous field tests and academic studies.

Because of its proven effectiveness in tests and studies, VSTAG is listed on the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices and is an excellent resource for threat assessment policy and procedure development.

Research also suggests that schools utilizing evidence-based programs like VSTAG see reduced rates of suspensions and racial disparities in school discipline. The Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education has a wealth of information and statistics to support the positive outcomes that come from using threat assessment.

There is no doubt that a heavy burden rests on any threat assessment team. What did you know, when did you know it, and what did you do about it? The good news is threat assessment works, and there are considerable evidence and real-world examples to prove it. If schools put time and effort into developing a sound threat assessment policy and threat assessment team, it undoubtedly will be the single best proactive measure they can take to make schools safer.

What Makes School Resource Officer Programs Successful?

If utilized correctly, a School Resource Officer (SRO) can be a valuable addition to any district safety and security program. Sometimes, however, the SRO can end up being a daily reminder of the cultural and philosophical differences that exist between school districts and police departments. It is essential for schools and police to work together to keep students safe.

This article published on govtech.com gives some helpful recommendations for a successful SRO program.


School Resource Officer: A Collision of Philosophies Makes it Unique

Newly released standards focus on what makes a successful SRO program.

BY JIM MCKAY AUGUST 3, 2018

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) announced a set of recommended standards for deploying School Resource Officers (SRO) successfully.

SROs can be one of the effective layers of security for schools but there are keys to getting the right fit that include the right officer, collaboration between law enforcement and schools and having an understanding between law enforcement and school district of what is expected from each for the position to be successful.

“It’s not for everybody,” said Mo Canady, NASRO executive director. “It’s kind of a collision of philosophies, bringing law enforcement and education together, but if done the right way can be a difference-maker.”

The recommendations included four main areas:

  1. Administrative standards, including an outline of the definition and purpose of an SRO.
  2. The careful selection of law enforcement officers for SRO positions.
  3. Specialized SRO training, including adolescent mental health, threat assessment and active shooter response.
  4. Interagency collaboration between school districts and law enforcement agencies.

Canady said one of the most important pieces to the successful equation is a foundational memorandum of understanding, signed by the school superintendent and the sheriff or police chief.

“It’s really impossible for the program to be successful if the school district and the law enforcement agency are not on the same sheet of music,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they have to agree on everything but there’s got to be foundational agreements for how it’s going to work.”
He said the No. 1 goal of an SRO program is effectively connecting to youth through relationships.

Some of those foundational keys include the roles each entity will play, the chain of command, who the SRO ultimately reports to, issues surrounding arrest procedures, and how to handle disciplinary matters. Those vary by jurisdiction, but there are solid standards.

Selection of the officer is critical. It has to someone passionate about working with youth and someone with experience, whether professional or volunteered, leading young people, such as through being a coach or scout leader. “As a former SRO supervisor, that may have been the biggest challenge I had and the most important challenge,” Canady said. “It’s the most unique position in law enforcement, there’s a lot involved in the package.”

It’s a high-visibility position in the community as well, so there is pressure on both the office and the police or sheriff’s department because putting the wrong person in that position can cause headaches for everyone involved.

The candidate should have at least three years of police work. That allows for a good frame of reference and a chance for recruiters to get a real feel for the person. Tactical experience is important too, as are firearms skills. “He has to be a well-balanced officer,” Canady said.

There is an initial 40-hour training course, but training is ongoing and varied. “They have to be able to take the skills they have and apply that to the school environment,” Canady said. “They have to learn about things like understanding the adolescent brain, special education and working with diverse groups of students, how to interact with educators.”

There are also state and national trainings and most SROs spend the summer months or those times when school is out on continued education.