Key Points from 2018 FBI Report on Pre-Attack Behaviors

FBI 2018 Report Pre-Attack Behaviors

In 2014, the FBI published a report titled A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013. The report focused on the circumstances of 160 active shooter events that had occurred from 2000-2013. In July, 2018, the FBI released the second phase of the study entitled A Study of the Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters in the United States between 2000 and 2013.

This report details behaviors and warning signs that occurred before an attack, providing readers with increased awareness of what to look for in our own settings. In the aftermath of an active shooter incident, we often listen as the media dissects the risk factors and warning signs that may have been missed. It might begin to sound as if there is a consistent profile of the active shooter.

I want to stress one thing: experts and authorities are still very clear on the fact that there is no profile of an active shooter.

While it is true that certain behaviors and characteristics appear in multiple individuals that have perpetrated this type of violence, each situation must be assessed on its own. An assessment is valid for a moment in time. Risk will either be increased or decreased as circumstances and individuals change. It is this fact that gives us hope. When we identify threatening situations and individuals early, we can intervene and reduce, or even eliminate, the likelihood of violence.

What the study tells us

The key findings of this phase II study that I believe are most pertinent to those of us who work in schools are:

  • The 63 active shooters in the study did not appear to be uniform in any way such that they could be readily identified prior to attacking based on demographics alone.
  • Active shooters take time to plan and prepare for the attacks, with 77% of subjects spending a week or longer planning their attack and 46% spending a week or longer procuring the means for the attack.
  • The FBI could only verify that 25% of active shooters in the study had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness. Of those diagnosed, only 3 had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. The FBI further states that, “declarations that all active shooters must simply be mentally ill are misleading and unhelpful.”
  • Active shooters were typically experiencing multiple stressors, an average of 3.6, in the year before they attacked.
  • On average, each active shooter displayed 4 to 5 concerning behaviors over time that were observable to others around the shooter. The most frequently occurring concerning behaviors were related to mental health, problematic interpersonal interactions and leakage of violent intent. In 56% of cases, the first incidence of such behavior occurred more than 2 years before the attack.
  • For active shooters under age 18, school peers and teachers were more likely to observe concerning behaviors than family members. In 12 student shooters studied, 92% of cases involved a schoolmate noticing concerning behavior before the attack.
  • When concerning behavior was observed, the most common responses were:
    • communicate directly with shooter 83%
    • do nothing 54%
    • report to a non-law enforcement authority 51%
    • discuss with a friend or family member 49%
    • report to law enforcement 41%.
  • In cases where the shooter’s primary grievance could be identified, 33% were related to an adverse interpersonal action (or perceived action) against the shooter and 16% were related to an employment action (or perceived action) against the shooter.

If you’d like to read more of the report, you can get it here.

Next steps for schools

If you don’t have a threat assessment team in place, I urge you to make it a priority this school year. Threat assessment is a research-based prevention and school safety strategy that will help you identify and intervene with not only potentially violent students, but students who are struggling on many levels. Those students need our help. We can’t help them if we don’t know who they are.

I’ve trained schools across the country to implement this practice. Is your school next? Contact me here to find out how I can help.

School Safety for Less

School Safety for Less

 

Are you thinking of making improvements to your school’s safety?

I want to let you in on a way to improve your school safety for less.

For the next few months, my loyal readers and followers can engage any of my services at prices that haven’t changed since 2012. That’s right – until the end of the fiscal year (June 30), I will honor my old prices for any booking or project that comes to completion by October 31. This gives you nearly 3 months to book, and over 6 months to host a training, purchase an online course for your staff, obtain a threat assessment consultation, or update your school safety plan.

As a lifelong educator dedicated to making schools better places for students to learn, and for staff members to thrive, I have always made sure that my services fit with schools’ tight budgets. Since founding Youth Risk Prevention Specialists 6 years ago, I have sought to provide outstanding school safety services at an affordable price and I have never raised prices. We all know that inflation is one of life’s certainties, and in order to continue doing this important work, I must make a few changes.

As violence threat assessment finally begins to get the recognition it deserves. I expect a surge in schools seeking this type of training. I have been doing this work for many years, and have obtained the education and experience necessary to provide the most current, research-based training and assistance to schools setting up threat assessment teams. There are many large safety companies that focus on a particular product or safety niche and I am concerned that they will develop “pop-up” threat assessment training services to complement their products or services. Even without adequate training or expertise in this area, they will likely get a lot of takers. Why? Because they have thousands of dollars to invest in advertising. A very small business like Youth Risk Prevention Specialists does not.

What I do provide is experience, knowledge, over-the-top service and customization to make sure you get exactly what you need to improve your school’s safety. I’ve worked nationwide with schools, organizations and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on projects that increased the safety of schools, workplaces and faith-based entities. I’m an active member of the Association of Threat Assessment Association (ATAP) and have been on the front lines of implementing violence threat assessment as a preventive practice in schools.

If you’d like to learn more about what Youth Risk Prevention Specialists can do to help make your school safer, simply click here for service descriptions and training outlines, or here to contact me with your specific needs. I’m happy to provide more information or answer any questions you may have.

 

 

There is one thing you can do

There is one thing you can do
It has happened yet again. Today marks the 18th school shooting this year. Each and every one of them is devastating. As educators, we mourn with the families, students, and school staff members who have suffered. We look at our own schools and workplaces and wonder whether we’ve done enough. I don’t know what each of you has done to create a safer school, but I do know there is one thing you can do.

If your school hasn’t yet trained and developed a violence threat assessment team, maybe now is the time. We can’t prevent all mass shootings, but we can decrease the number by knowing what to watch for, identifying struggling individuals, and linking them to help. We can connect the dots that spell out warning signs and disrupt the pathway to violence before it reaches a harrowing conclusion.

For a snapshot of what setting up a threat assessment team involves, read this.  If you have considered taking action to train your staff in violence warning signs, threat assessment, and threat management, could there be a better time?

Youth Risk Prevention Specialists provides schools nationwide with the peace of mind that comes from knowing they have done everything they can to create a safe school environment. To learn how the comprehensive SafeAware© program delivers that, simply click here.

What Really Keeps Us Safe

What really keeps us safe

With the recent violent events in the news, questions are bound to surface about what really keeps us safe. It’s enough to make our heads spin, keep us up at night, and second guess the safety measures we’ve put in place in our schools and workplaces. Events like what happened in Las Vegas can make many of us throw up our hands and wonder, “how can we possibly prevent something like that?”

After every incident of targeted violence, we learn a little more about how to protect ourselves and those for whom we are responsible. We do need to keep our doors locked and have consistently enforced check-in procedures at our entrances. We need to pay attention to who is in our buildings and be willing to question those we don’t recognize or who exhibit signs that they don’t belong there. We need to practice drills for all different types of emergencies, have a solid emergency response plan and effective communication system. We need to learn warning signs and have a process for intervening when we see them. Nothing has changed in that respect.

But there is one thing we come back to again and again.

It’s what really keeps us safe.

Relationships. Listening and taking concerns seriously. Paying attention and noticing when someone is struggling. Creating a welcoming and positive school climate. Stopping bullying, harassment and disrespect in its tracks.

These are not the glamorous, novel, or shiny new strategies. They are not the latest in technology or must-have safety gear.

But, they are what matters most.

After every mass shooting or incident of violence between individuals, we find someone who is unhappy, angry, feels dismissed or has suffered at the hands of someone else. When we dig deeper, we find that the person has often been in turmoil for a significant period of time and feels that no one is listening or helping to resolve the situation. We see the bullied and the bullies. We see those with a grievance who feel dismissed or disenfranchised. We find individuals who are at the fringes of the groups to which they want to belong. We see sadness, rejection and anger, and often an inability to make things better.

A sense of belonging is at the very root of human existence. Without proper bonding and positive interaction, infants fail to thrive. When children are neglected, they fall behind both socially and academically. When teens feel alone and unwanted, they become depressed, suicidal, and turn to all sorts of risky behaviors. When teens and adults have felt this way for years, they either turn the overwhelming feelings inward or outward. Often, they do both.

The best way to prevent this is to take a hard look at what we’re doing to build positive connections and an inclusive environment. We must look at this from the perspective of those we serve…our students. We may have programs in place that we believe address all of our school climate concerns, but if students don’t feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and concern from our staff and each other, we’re not doing the job as well as we think we are. If you need help finding a tool to assess how students perceive the school in these respects, take a look at this compendium of surveys or put together some focus groups and study the issue. Then, work together with all stakeholders to change what needs to be changed, and continue to monitor and evaluate until students and parents tell you that you got it right.

I was just about to ask…..

Are we becoming too complacent

I was just about to ask, “are we becoming too complacent?” In fact, that was the original title of this article. I recently noticed that we, as a society, might have allowed ourselves to put some aspects of school safety on the back burner because we hadn’t seen any major safety breaches in the past couple of years. I had begun to receive fewer requests for school safety and violence threat assessment training. Friends and acquaintances who work in schools had been commenting that security was getting a bit lax in their respective buildings.

And then, it happened. Before I could finish this article, there were 2 incidents…the stuff of our worst nightmares. Honestly, I knew it would.

On August 28, a 16-year old boy shot and killed 2 women and injured 4 others in a small community library in Clovis, NM. On September 13, a 15-year old boy shot and killed another student and wounded 3 others before being subdued by a heroic school employee.

I suspect we aren’t complacent anymore.

My phone has started to ring. But, it is not school administrators who are calling me. Rather, the calls come from reporters around the country who want to know how we can prevent this from happening again.

A recent Gallup poll called the Work and Education poll, was conducted in early August with a random sample of 233 parents of K-12 children. Gallup has administered this poll annually since 1977. This year, 24% of parents reported worrying about their child’s physical safety at school. The percentage has not been this low since August 2012, just a few months before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, parental fear rose to 33%.

Historically, this particular poll has shown that parental fear has increased following a school shooting:

  • After the Columbine High School shooting, parental fear rose to 55%, the highest in the history of the poll
  • After the Santana High School shooting in Santee, CA, parental fear rose to 45%
  • After the shooting at a Pennsylvania Amish schoolhouse, parental fear rose to 35%

The poll also asked parents, “Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school when they go back to school this fall?” Just 6% of parents reported that their children expressed concern regarding their safety while at school, the lowest number in 18 years of survey administration. The average has been 11%.

I am certainly not saying that I want parents, school staff members and students to live fearfully. I simply want to encourage those connected to schools to be mindful that we must continue to employ the school safety and prevention measures we have adopted, even when we are experiencing a positive, less violent cycle.

Perhaps now is a good time to review your tolerance and bully prevention policies and programming, and take a hard look at school climate. This might be the year to administer a school climate survey to students, parents and staff members. We have recently witnessed several high-profile incidents related to hate and intolerance. While we cannot always control what happens in the larger world, we can foster a sense of belonging and ownership within our school communities.

Has your school assembled and trained a threat assessment team? A referral to this team is vital when students or staff members have concerns about behavior or threats. When asked whether warning signs had been missed in the recent Washington shooting, Sheriff Knezovich commented, “they are always missed.” While I’m not in complete agree with the sheriff, here’s how this can happen:

When we don’t have a process in place to gather extensive data and compare notes with others, each behavior witnessed seems like an isolated incident. We must put all the pieces of the puzzle together to make a true and accurate assessment of violence risk.

Do you have your threat assessment team in place? Have all team members received high quality training? I train school staff members using the very model employed by the FBI and Secret Service to assess threats. If you’d like to know more, simply contact me here.

For a quick recap of some key warning signs, you may want to listen to this recent radio podcast. For an extensive list of warning signs, read this.

The Connection Between Mental Health & School Safety

The majority of people with mental illness do not commit violent acts. A number of studies support the finding that a mere 4% of violence toward others in the U.S. can be attributed to people diagnosed with mental illness.[1] There are, however, specific severe mental illness diagnoses linked to slightly higher rates of violence – schizophrenia, which is characterized by disorganized thoughts and behavior and perhaps a loss of touch with reality, along with the major mood disorders, bipolar disorder and major depression. The truth is, persons with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.[2] Mental illness does, however, carry an increased risk of violence toward oneself – suicide.[3]

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We also know that alcohol and drug use and abuse significantly increase risk for violence toward self and others in both mentally ill and non-mentally ill populations.

Mental illness, then, is not the sole cause of school violence. Roughly 1 in 4 people in the U. S. have a diagnosable mental illness and most of them do not feel compelled to act violently.[4] Mental illness is just one risk factor, and the presence of risk factors does not necessarily result in a specific outcome. Many factors are involved in this process.

How can we reliably determine which individuals are at risk for perpetrating violence in our schools?

The practice of threat assessment, developed over the past twenty years, is the tool we use to investigate and determine the level of risk posed by a given individual. Its focus is not on predicting, but on preventing violence.

Quite simply, we can get a glimpse into someone’s mind by observing precisely what the individual says and does. We review all risk factors, behavioral warning signs, and violence inhibitors, to obtain a more complete picture of whether the individual is heading toward violence. Then, we can intervene, get help for the person, and manage the possible threat in a way that will keep others safe. If we find that we do have concerns about the individual’s mental health, this is the time to summon the person’s support system and refer him or her for assistance.

This discussion would not be complete without acknowledging that in the aftermath of a number of school shooting attacks, previously overlooked indicators of undiagnosed mental illness were uncovered.[5] While the incidence of school shooting is rare, and the link between mental illness and violence is tenuous, we always want to watch for signs of possible mental health issues, and attend to them swiftly.

Other risk factors and warning signs of violence include access to weapons, substance use/abuse, noncompliance with psychiatric medication or treatment, fascination/preoccupation with weapons and violence, a commando mentality, holding onto grievances, a model or script for using violence to solve problems, feelings of envy, anger, rage and hopelessness, a sense of being entitled to revenge for a perceived wrong, and a feeling of marginalization from peers. Can a distorted sense of reality or skewed thought patterns be behind some of these factors? Absolutely!

There are also specific protective factors shown to inhibit violence. These may or may not be present in a given individual’s life. It is the totality of the situation that ultimately determines the outcome.

Small steps we can take each day to keep our schools safe include making vital personal connections with our students, fostering a positive, equitable school climate, educating others and ourselves about the risk factors and warning signs of mental illness, suicide, and violence, and keeping a watchful eye on students. We can develop a process in our schools for referral, assessment, and intervention to provide the help our students need. With all of these preventive measures in place, we can trust that we’ve made our schools a much safer place to learn.

This post originally appeared as a guest blog at SafeandSoundSchools.org

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[1] Friedman, Richard A., M.D. The New York Times, December 17, 2012.

[2] Brekke JS, Prindle C, Bae SW, Long JD. Risks for individuals with schizophrenia who are living in the community. Psychiatric Services. 2001; 52(10):1358–1366. [PubMed]

[3] University of Washington School of Social Work http://depts.washington.edu/mhreport/facts_suicide.php

[4] Singh, Pavita, MPH. Huffpost Media, Jan 28, 2016

[5] Langman, Peter. School Shooters: Understanding High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators, Rowan & Littlefield, January 2015

Mass Shooter Contagion

Mass Shooter Contagion

When you review your school safety practices this summer, be sure to consider the phenomenon known as the mass shooter contagion effect.

We’ve already learned that it’s best not to extensively memorialize deaths that were caused by suicide. The reason for this sometimes unpopular practice is that we don’t want to encourage suicide in those individuals who may view it as a method of getting the recognition and sympathy they desire.

There appears to be a similar effect operating with regard to mass shooting incidents. For this reason, we also want to minimize the recognition of mass violence perpetrators.

Dr. Sherry Towers led a research team from Arizona State University to apply a statistical model for detecting contagion in disease to shooting data previously collected by the Brady Campaign and USA Today. The researchers found that mass shootings increased the incidence of similar events within a period of 13 days. It was noted that this effect is present in 30% of mass shootings and 22% of school shootings.

This type of clustering may have roots in a similar copycat effect regarding suicide that was noted by sociologist Dave Phillips in 1974, and termed the Werther Effect. The Werther Effect uses social learning theory to explain that vulnerable individuals may see or hear of the suicide of someone with whom they identify and make a decision, either consciously or unconsciously, that suicide is an appropriate choice for him/her as well. This effect is thought to be responsible for cluster suicides.

Mass shooter contagion and schools

There is some indication that the national media is beginning to review and act on this information. Our job is to do the same in our own schools and communities.

Here’s what we need to do:

  • Make our staff aware of both the suicide and mass shooting contagion effects
  • Become increasingly vigilant when either suicide or violence occur in our geographic area, or anywhere in the world, if there is national media exposure.
  • Train school staff members in the warning signs of suicide and violence. For a list of each, consider taking this free online school safety course, which contains both lists.

If you have found this post helpful, please forward to your friends and colleagues. If you have had this post forwarded to you, you can get your own copy by subscribing here.

School Violence Rates Increase in the Spring

School Violence

In a recent post, I wrote about the reality of higher suicide rates in the Spring. We also need to be exceedingly vigilant about the warning signs of violence during the spring months. Here’s why:

School Violence Rates Increase in the Spring

In my research, I found a total of 100 confirmed injuries or deaths by shooting or stabbing in secondary and post-secondary schools during the months of April and May in the United States. Of course, we want to be vigilant at all times, but even more so during this time of year. Whether the factors responsible for these high springtime rates parallel those involved in increased spring rates of suicide is unclear. Further research may help to clarify the role played by social and biological factors in these high rates of violence.

Below is a list of April and May dates that have witnessed the tragedy of a school shooting (it may not be exhaustive). Some of the incidents have included the suicide of the perpetrator. Because individuals who are contemplating an act of targeted violence often identify with, and wish to emulate, previous attackers, specific dates may be significant to a given individual. Research has established that there is such a thing as a copycat effect, so it’s wise to familiarize your school staff with the dates below. This is a time to be particularly vigilant, especially with persons of concern. If you notice something that causes concern and aren’t sure what to do next, read this.

April 2, 1867, 1921, 2012
April 5, 1975
April 6, 1904, 1918
April 7, 1977, 1982
April 9, 1891, 1952, 2014
April 10, 1996
April 11, 2014
April 12, 1919, 1982, 1887, 1994, 2013
April 13, 2015
April 15, 1908, 1993
April 16, 1974, 1987, 1999, 2007, 2013, 2015
April 17, 1981, 1956, 1984
April 18, 1918, 2013
April 20, 1984, 1961, 1999
April 21, 2014
April 23, 1991
April 24, 1890, 1998, 2003
April 25, 1950
April 26, 1978, 2009
April 27, 1936, 1966, 2015
April 29, 1920
April 30, 1866
May 1, 1920, 1992 (2), 1958
May 4, 1956, 1970, 2014
May 5, 2014
May 6, 1930, 1940
May 7, 1935, 2004
May 8 2014
May 9, 2003
May 12, 2015
May 13, 1969
May 14, 1992 (2), 2013, 2014
May 15, 1920, 1954, 1970
May 16, 1986
May 17, 1889, 1984, 2001
May 18, 1906, 1927, 1979, 2009 (2)
May 19, 1998, 1936
May 20, 1988, 1999
May 21, 1998
May 22, 1930, 1968
May 23, 1940, 2011, 2014
May 24, 1878, 1879, 1979, 1993, 1998, 2015
May 26, 1994, 2000, 2012
May 28,1931

In addition, both the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Boston Marathon Bombing occurred during the spring, on April 19, 1995 and April 15, 2013, respectively.

I would not suggest that you disseminate this information to students or parents but I do recommend reminding all staff and parents that this is a time of year to increase vigilance regarding signs of both suicide and violence.

Arapahoe report teaches about threat assessment

Report

Unfortunately, we often learn the most about how to improve our own levels of school safety by studying tragic incidents that have devastated lives. I never want to place blame or criticize anyone’s safety efforts. We all do the best we can with limited resources, knowledge, and power to implement change.

I do want to reflect for a moment on the recently released report regarding the 2013 Arapahoe High School fatal shooting of 17-year-old student Claire Davis, only because of what we can learn. The field of school safety is continually evolving. We are learning and improving every day.

The Arapahoe report teaches us about threat assessment

The report’s author, Michael Dorn of Safe Havens International, found that many effective school safety practices were in place at Arapahoe High School and in the Littleton School District. In addition, 11 analysts cited the following concerns that leave room for improvement in the area of threat assessment:

  • A systematic, “integrated systems approach” that involves collaboration with public safety partners to assess and make decisions regarding potential threats, was not in place at the time of the incident. It’s important to define roles and keep MOU’s (Memoranda of Understanding) between agencies on file in the school district.
  •  The threat assessment process used prior to the shooting focused more on establishing evidence that the student of concern “made” a threat rather than on assessing whether he or she posed a threat.
  • There was no defined multidisciplinary threat assessment team at Arapahoe High School at the time of the incident. All threat assessments were conducted by the school psychologist and assistant principal, and it appeared they may not have received adequate training on the threat assessment process.
  • It is unclear whether the team responsible for initiating the threat assessment had the professional knowledge and training needed to determine whether to conduct a threat evaluation of a student of concern. Threat assessment teams must include members of administration, pupil services and law enforcement, and all members should be professionally trained in violence warning signs and threat assessment practices.
  • There is no record that individual schools were provided with adequate resources or direction to train staff on recognizing violence warning signs and the specific actions to take. A district training presentation instructed schools to provide annual staff training on suicide and violence warning signs, but it is unclear whether this was done.
  • District staff may not have properly understood FERPA guidelines for information sharing.
  • There are concerns about decisions around disciplining the attacker after he made threats. School administrators had the option to suspend or expel him, but did not do either. In addition, a more thorough law enforcement investigation of the attacker’s prior threats may have decreased the likelihood of an attack.
  • The assessment form listed limited options for police response.
  • The assessment form did not provide a prompt for the threat assessment team to follow up to ensure that recommended safety strategies had been implemented.
  • Some of the procedures on the assessment and action plan forms were not followed.
  • Often, there was no explanation of the rationale for decisions made as part of the assessment.

The report contains much more detail than this post and I encourage you to review these recommendations with your own safety team to ensure that you are making your school the safest it can be. If you need assistance, or just want to discuss whether you’re on the right track, consider an inexpensive 1-to-1 consulting session. To learn more, simply read this.

Remembering Sandy Hook

Remembering Sand Hook

We all remember those dark days of December, 2012 when innocent lives were lost due to an unthinkable act of violence. The 3-year anniversary of this tragedy has just passed, and our hearts go out to those who were intimately affected. Their lives have been forever changed.

Learning from the Sandy Hook tragedy

In this post, I’m going to focus on what I believe is the single most important take-away from the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy:  There is an established and effective practice that can help prevent future tragedies. The practice of violence threat assessment allows us to identify and attend to the warning signs before we get to the point of another school shooting. It is precisely the model used by the FBI and Secret Service to evaluate threats and warning signs.

In the days, weeks and months following a targeted act of violence, we start to peel back the layers and acknowledge the many signs and missed opportunities. When we notice, assess, and intervene in behaviors that seem “off” or match those we know are indicators of possible mental illness, lack of coping skills, violent ideology, suicide or violence, we are taking action to prevent violence from occurring.

By attending to the warning signs, communicating with others, gathering information that helps us form a complete picture, and implementing plans for both safety and intervention, we are making great strides toward preventing violence. To learn more about how violence threat assessment works, simply click here.