When you hear a student threaten another student verbally or through writing, email or social media, should you be concerned that violence will follow? The answer depends on several things.
School Threat Assessment – What You Need to Know
First, it is always imperative to conduct an investigation. You will need to gather information about the individual, circumstances, relationship between the threatener and the target and any previous threats or violence perpetrated by the threatener (subject). It’s critical that you include staff members, law enforcement and agency staff representing various disciplines on your threat assessment team. This will enable you to collect information from a number of individuals who have experience with the subject, and to view your data through multiple lenses.
Does the subject have a history of violence? Does he/she have a pattern of making threats or of inappropriate communication, with no action toward violence? A threat is like a promise – a statement that a future action will take place. But, promises are often easier to make than to keep. Sometimes, it is the same way with threats.
What we want to pay particular attention to are the behaviors engaged in by a subject of concern. Does the subject display a contextually inappropriate fascination with violence, weapons or previous attacks? Is the subject increasing his/her target practice? Has the subject been seen on school grounds at odd times and in unusual places? Has the subject spoken to others about a desire to inflict violence or a plan to do so? Has he/she taken steps to acquire weapons? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, make it your mission to find out. Convene your threat assessment team and gather information on any and all incidents and observations involving the subject of concern. To not do so risks letting critical information fall through the cracks.
If a picture of progressive actions toward violence begins to emerge, your concern should be elevated. Keep investigating, take appropriate safety measures and involve the student’s parents or guardians. Law enforcement will want to consider a search warrant if parents are not forthcoming with information or cooperative with a search of the subject’s home. If you see steps toward intended violence, an attack has already begun and it is vital to intervene before it’s too late.
Need help assessing a potential threat? Learn more here.