Sunday, January 13, 2013

Keeping schools safe without armed guards

Marc Brenman is the former Executive Director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission and co-author of “Planning as if People Matter: Governing for Social Equity.“ He has compiled a very detailed plan and ideas to deal with gun and school violence that was posted on Joanne Tosti-Vasey website Blogging for Equality.  Here are a few excerpts:

Provide ways for students to report rumors or concerns and ensuring that students trust and feel connected to adults at their school. Recent studies by the Secret Service show that in the vast majority of student shootings, other students on the campus were aware of the event before it occurred.

Use tip lines. Tip lines acknowledge the key role that students and community members play in keeping schools safe. They also provide a deterrent effect that may preclude acts of crime and violence from occurring. Advice from educators and law enforcers around the country underscores several key recommendations for successful tip line management:

■Make the tip line a collaborative, communitywide effort; involve students in planning and managing the tip line; regularly publicize and promote the tip line;

■Protect privacy and caller anonymity;

■Keep callers informed of progress; and

■Provide incentives or rewards.

Training every staff member to look for signs of “off behavior,” even subtle ones, from people who come into school buildings, is critical. Use a threat assessment approach. Look at the person’s personal risk factors and ask,

■“Do they have a history of mental illness?”

■If students, what kinds of behavioral problems have they had? What are their relationships like?

Also look at protective factors:

■Do they have someone they can talk to?

■Are there guns in the home? Are they locked up?

■Are there signs such as social withdrawal, irritability, and a change in habits?

The best predictor of future behavior is past behaviors. A history of violence towards family members, toward others, towards animals is a warning sign. A common pattern for school shooters is being male, having a history of loss or a perceived failure or rejection, and having access to firearms.

For example, despite being rejected by the military because of a history of illicit drug use and being kicked out of a community college for repeated incidents of threatening and bizarre behavior, Jared Loughner, the Tucson, Arizona, mass gun murderer, legally purchased a semi-automatic pistol with a magazine capable of holding 30 rounds of ammunition.

“Some warning signs carry more weight than others. For instance, a fascination with, and possession of, firearms are more significant than being a loner, because possession of firearms gives one the capacity to carry out an attack.”

According to Roger Depue in the Virginia Tech Review Panel Report, the “following are some warning signs (indicators and red flags) associated with school shootings in the United States. Schools, places of employment, and other entities that are creating a threat assessment capability may want to be aware of these red flags:

■Violent fantasy content – Writings (Stories, essays, compositions),

■Drawings (Artwork depicting violence),

■Reading and viewing materials (Preference for books, magazines, television, video tapes and discs, movies, music, websites, and chat rooms with violent themes and degrading subject matter), and role playing acts of violence and degradation.

■Anger problems – Difficulty controlling anger, loss of temper, impulsivity,

■Making threats

■Fascination with weapons and accoutrements – Especially those designed and most often used to kill people (such as machine guns, semiautomatic pistols, snub nose revolvers, stilettos, bayonets, daggers, brass knuckles, special ammunition and explosives)

■Boasting and practicing of fighting and combat proficiency –

■Military and sharpshooter training, martial arts, use of garrotes, and knife fighting

■Loner – Isolated and socially withdrawn, misfit, prefers own company to the company of others

■Suicidal ideation –

■Depressed and expresses hopelessness and despair

■Reveals suicidal preparatory behavior

■Homicidal ideation –

■Expresses contempt for other(s)

■Makes comments and/or gestures indicating violent aggression

■Stalking – Follows, harasses, surveils, attempts to contact regardless of the victim’s expressed annoyance and demands to cease and desist

■Non-compliance and disciplinary problems – Refusal to abide by written and/or verbal rules

■Imitation of other murderers –

■Appearance, dress, grooming, possessions like those of violent shooters in past episodes (e.g. long black trench coats)

■Interest in previous shooting situations – Drawn toward media, books, entertainment, conversations dealing with past murders

■Victim/martyr self-concept – Fantasy that some day he will represent the oppressed and wreak vengeance on the oppressors

■Strangeness and aberrant behavior – Actions and words that cause people around him to become fearful and suspicious

■Paranoia – Belief that he is being singled out for unfair treatment and/or abuse; feeling persecuted.

■Violence and cruelty – A history of using violence to solve problems (fighting, hitting, etc.), abusing animals or weaker individuals

■Inappropriate affect – Enjoying cruel behavior and/or being able to view cruelty without being disturbed

■Acting out – Expressing disproportionate anger or humor in situations not warranting it, attacking surrogate targets

■Police contact – A history of contact with police for anger, stalking, disorderly conduct;

■Past temporary restraining orders (or similar court orders),

■A jail/prison record for aggressive crimes

■Mental health history related to dangerousness – A history of referral or commitments to mental health facilities for aggressive/destructive behavior

■Expressionless face/anhedonia – An inability to express and/or experience joy and pleasure

■Unusual interest in police, military, terrorist activities and materials

■Vehicles resembling police cars, military vehicles, surveillance equipment, handcuffs, weapons, clothing (camouflage, ski masks, etc.)

■Use of alcohol/drugs – Alcohol/drugs are used to reduce inhibitions so that aggressive behaviors are more easily expressed

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