Liberal Gun Owners’ Student Threat Assessment Advocacy Materials

In our efforts to be an active part of the solutions towards mitigating all forms of gun violence, Liberal Gun Owners has begun relationships with serious professionals in the associated fields.

If you are a parent, community member, or member of a school system, and like us, you are concerned about the phenomenon of targeted shootings inside of the school environment, we would like to ask that you consider learning about student threat assessment systems. These are proven models of prevention for targeted violence in schools with a simple: monitor risk factors, report, consider/take action sequence.

Liberal Gun Owners is an advocate for the gold-standard version of student threat assessment: The Salem-Keiser Student Threat Assessment System(STAS). STAS is relatively simple to implement, has a relatively low implementation cost, has a relatively fast processing speed, and can be modified to fit any school in any school district. It also does not require teachers and administrators to train extensively beyond their normal operations. Teachers are trained to recognize patterns and risk factors. They then add this skill to their already existing protocols for dealing with troubles inside of the school environment. When risk factors are observed, reports are then made to an established threat assessment team — who analyzes and initiates actions where necessary.

It is important to note here that our advocacy (as well as STAS itself) is constructed upon the science-based investigative processes of the United States Secret Service and the extensive expertise of The United States Board Of Education. It is also based upon the social science experience and conclusions of the multi-disciplinary teams that use STAS on a daily basis. The proper list of publications connected to this epistemology will follow.

In regards to the differing views on gun legislation: addressing the firearms aspect alone is not an effective mechanism of prevention. In the view of experts in the associated fields, early, behavioral intervention is the most worthwhile expenditure of energy in regards to preventing a school shooting. Before any considerations regarding firearms legislation, we recommend the consideration of the realities of root cause mitigation — which are at the heart of student threat assessment.

In addition, the typical focus upon security officers, metal detectors, (and the consideration of armed teachers) places a focus upon the part of the event timeline where prevention becomes extraordinarily unlikely. These security aspects may have their place in an integrated strategy, but by themselves, they have already been proven to be foiled by school shooters.

School shooters need to be stopped before they reach the school. More importantly, potential school shooters need to be stopped before they activate their plan — and there are ample examples of stoppages, upon the recognized school shooting continuum, inside of the experience of student threat assessment teams.

STAS and other established student threat assessment systems address the risk factors and behaviors associated with a targeted shooting in the school environment. All prominent examples of the school shooting phenomenon have involved a student who planned and acted along a discernible, escalating continuum — over a period of time. The effective approach to preventing a school shooting is to recognize activity along this continuum, and intervene before it reaches the event. 

This is where STAS shines. STAS has been developed by School Psychologist and student threat assessment expert John Van Dreal. A little about John:

John Van Dreal is a School Psychologist and the Director of Safety and Risk Management Services for the Salem-Keizer (Oregon) School District. He has 30 years of experience in threat assessment and management, psycho-educational evaluation, crisis intervention, behavioral intervention, and security and risk management systems consultation.

In our relationship with John, as friend and consultant, we have come to the place where we feel that school shootings are a specialized issue that require a critical, specialized effort to prevent its further proliferation inside of American school culture. Statistically, schools remain one of the safest places for people to be — yet the reality of the specialized situation remains.

Generally speaking, the proper implementation of STAS promotes increased communication, a legitimate sense of safety, and cultural health inside of the school environment. The system can also improve the school’s relationships with the wider community. Even without the primary benefit of targeted violence prevention, STAS can lead to an evolution into a more safe, positive, and enjoyable school experience for students and teachers alike.

Schools shootings are on our minds, and they have a nationwide effect on the daily experiences of our students. There is a cultural script that has been established in the collective American psyche, and that script continues to feed future acts of targeted violence in schools.

If you are interested in learning more about STAS, and you are interested in approaching your community, your K-12 school, or your school board about its implementation, please do not hesitate to contact John Van Dreal for a consultation:

johnvandreal@gmail.com

Please consider buying John’s book:

Assessing Student Threats: Implementing The Salem-Keizer System, Second Edition.

Please consider visiting the website:

www.studentthreatassessment.org

Please consider the text version of our 2018 interview with John:

https://medium.com/p/6e582383c1d0

Included with this material is a 10 question protocol for looking at risk factors in students that may have you concerned. It has been authored by John Van Dreal and is titled: Student Threat Assessment System Risk Indicators Associated with Targeted Violence. It should give you an idea of the protocols that are at the basis of the STAS. We also include the recommendations of The Secret Service and The Board Of Education for the steps to implement a student threat assessment system inside of a school, as well as recommendations for the improvement of the school environment.

If you have any other questions, or need further guidance on targeted violence in higher education, or in houses of worship, do not hesitate to contact us:

liberalgunowers@gmail.com

And, always, if you have concerns of imminent danger, contact your local Law Enforcement by dialing 911.

Liberal Gun Owners

www.liberalgunowners.org

©2018 Liberal Gun Owners


Student Threat Assessment System Risk Indicators Associated with Targeted Violence

1. Has there been a shift toward a threat of extreme aggression or violence?

Violence is aggressive behavior that is intended to, or results in, serious or lethal injury.

2. Have there been threatening communications suggesting a potential violent attack?

Is the communication an expression that suggests details of planning or ongoing consideration of an attack. Communications may include verbal expressions, artwork, email, internet messaging, texting, written language exercises or any other medium of communication. A communication can also be made by indirect, veiled or casual references to possible harmful events, warnings of potential harm or references to previously occurring violent events such as school or community shootings.

3. Are there indications of a specific target or targets?

Is there a history of suicidal ideation, gestures, references or intent? A desire to die, be killed by another, or commit suicide, combined with a threat to harm others, increases the overall risk, especially if the suicidal behavior is one feature of a plan to kill others and carry out revenge or justice. If there is a risk of suicide, seek out advice and assessment from a doctor, mental health professional or call the Psychiatric Care Center or Crisis Center. (See back of brochure)

4. Are there indications of a motive, goal or justification for a serious or lethal attack?

While there can certainly be many motives for acting out violently or aggressively, the most common is the need to establish or re-establish control, often disguised as revenge or vendetta for lost love or humiliation and the desire to prove bravery after making a threat or taking a dare. Pay close attention to motive themes of loss, being wronged or excessive anger.

5. Are there any indications of behavior that increase the possibility of violence occurring? Such indications may include a plan, acquiring weapons, rehearsing or practicing the attack, scheduling the attack or other preparations.

A communication that threatens an attack is only an expression and does not suggest a “posed threat” unless there are behaviors supporting the intent to carry out the attack. Many threats are not stated with clearly expressed language but are indicated by veiled threats and/or behavior that relates to a possible attack. Attack related behavior includes but is not limited to, the following:

  • A plan to carry out a targeted act of aggression against a specific individual or group. A plan would have a sequence of actions necessary for its success. The more plausible the plan the greater the risk.
  • The acquisition of a weapon, the attempted acquisition of a weapon or research about how to acquire a weapon. If the threat is the use of physical force to the point of serious or lethal injury, then the physical force is the weapon.
  • Scheduling an attack. Scheduling the act can be indicated through vague communication or actually noted in clear detail. Sometimes the schedule is flexible, awaiting a triggering event (teasing, rejection, loss) that further justifies the violence and locks it in as the only solution.

6. Are actions and behaviors consistent with communication?

If threats are made but not accompanied by attack-related behaviors, motives or a specific target(s) consistent with that threat, then the risk decreases.

7. Is there peer collaboration?

Are peers aware of, or concerned about, a potential attack? Are peers encouraging the attack?

8. Are alternatives and emotional coping reserves depleting?

For example, a person who is low on coping strategies or alternatives may consider violence to be the only option available to solve problems.

9. Are there indications of suicidal thoughts?

Is there a history of suicidal ideation, gestures, references or intent? A desire to die, be killed by another, or commit suicide, combined with a threat to harm others, increases the overall risk, especially if the suicidal behavior is one feature of a plan to kill others and carry out revenge or justice. If there is a risk of suicide, seek out advice and assessment from a doctor, mental health professional, or contact your local suicide prevention hotline.

10. Are there personality or behavioral traits, family dynamics, school system issues or social dynamics that lead to a more vulnerable and potentially dangerous situation?

Reckless and vindictive behavior, family dysfunction, academic failure and social crisis are all risk factors that can aggravate an already at-risk situation.

If someone you know is being threatened or is threatening harm upon someone else, contact your school administrator or local law enforcement.

©2018 John Van Dreal


Implementing A Threat Assessment Program

For anyone who is interested in learning about the implementation of threat assessment in their school, we strongly encourage that you touch base with John Van Dreal and learn about the implementation of STAS.

Contact John:

johnvandreal@gmail.com

For those interested in understanding the baseline, these are the guidelines recommended by the Dept. of Education and the Secret Service.

(Taken from Threat Assessment In Schools — A Guide To Managing Threatening Situations And To Creating Safe School Climates by The United States Secret Service And The United States Department Of Education.)

Threat assessment policies and programs work best as components of school violence prevention strategies if these policies and programs are authorized, developed, and implemented by local officials, and developed in consultation with representatives of the broader community. The following course of action should be pursued in establishing a threat assessment approach in a community or school district.

1. A principal, superintendent, school board member, or other school official initiates a request to develop a process to evaluate and respond to threatening situations. The request is forwarded to the school board or other responsible oversight entity for policy approval.

Threatening situations might include: threats made directly against students, teachers, or other school officials; threats made indirectly by telephone, in writing, over the Internet, or through interpersonal contacts; communications or behaviors suggesting a student’s intent to mount an attack at school; and allegations of bomb- making or that a student possesses a firearm.

2. The school district creates a planning team to develop or further refine a process to identify, assess, and manage threatening situations.

Members of the team should be drawn from the school district and the community. Team members should include representatives of law enforcement and mental health agencies who work with the schools. Representatives from the school district should include administrators, teachers, attorneys, school security officials, and school psychologists and mental health workers.

The team appointed to develop a process to evaluate threatening situations should determine the status of each of the following:

  • Information-sharing: What are the existing policies, procedures, and legal parameters in place for access to and sharing of school, law enforcement, and mental health records? The team should ascertain what information concerning students is available; where that information is located; how and under what conditions that information can be accessed; and who can access available information.
  • Existing policies regarding threats and threatening situations: The team should review all existing school disciplinary policies, including those related to threats and threatening situations. This review should cover definition of threats and threatening situations and sanctions for engaging in threatening behavior. The team should assess the effectiveness of existing school discipline policies in this area.
  • Existing policies regarding the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement: The team should review policies that cover when police are to be contacted by the school; what options are available to police officials for intervening in a situation once they are contacted; and interaction of the police and local school officials, such as principals, in responding to and managing threatening situations.
  • Existing approaches to creating and maintaining safe and respectful school climates and cultures: The team should engage in an assessment of the emotional climate of the school. This assessment should include a review of policies; rules and regulations; and physical aspects of the school that may affect the overall safety and security of the educational institution.
  • The planning team should determine what policies, rules, regulations, procedures, and/or processes should be revised or created. Some schools already may have policies and protocols in place to deal with certain kinds of threats and threatening behaviors, such as e-mail threats, internet threats, potential suicides, and other behaviors that raise concern about potential violence. In particular, the planning team’s deliberations in this area should produce answers to the following questions:
  • What should be the roles and responsibilities of school administrators, teachers, security personnel, and other school officials in responding to threats and threatening situations? When should parents be contacted concerning a threatening situation? Which situations should be handled within the school? Which situations require notification of, and intervention by, law enforcement officials?
  • What should be the roles/responsibilities of law enforcement officials in responding to threats and threatening situations in schools?
  • Under what conditions will information concerning a student or a threatening situation be shared? What types of information will be shared? With whom will it be shared?
  • When should students who engage in threatening behavior be referred to outside services, such as mental health agencies, for assistance? How should referrals to outside agencies be handled?
  • What actions should be taken to develop and support climates of safety within the educational institution? What steps could be taken by school officials to encourage students to come forward with concerns about potentially violent situations? What policies or actions would encourage students to bring their problems to the attention of adults? How can school officials and other adults work with students to resolve problems and remedy underlying conditions?
  • School administrators, teachers, law enforcement officials, parents, representatives of other community agencies and organizations, and representatives of the student body, where appropriate, review and provide feedback on revised and/or new recommended processes for threat assessment. These processes should include recommendations for implementation, training, and the periodic review, evaluation, and updating of the threat assessment program.
  • The school board reviews and acts upon recommended changes and additions to the threat assessment program.
  • Upon approval by the school board or other appropriate authorities, school officials will implement the threat assessment process.

Creating A Safe And Connected School Climate

For anyone who is interested in learning about the creation of a healthier and safer school culture (which is the foundation for effective threat assessment), we strongly encourage you to touch base with John Van Dreal and learn about the implementation of STAS. Contact John:

johnvandreal@gmail.com

For those interested in understanding the baseline of creating a healthier school culture, these are the guidelines recommended by the Dept. of Education and the Secret Service.

(Taken from Threat Assessment In Schools — A Guide To Managing Threatening Situations And To Creating Safe School Climates by The United States Secret Service And The United States Department Of Education.)

Creating cultures and climates of safety is essential to the prevention of violence in schools. How can a school, its teachers and administrators, and its students work toward implementing cultures of connection and climates of safety?

Major Components and Tasks for Creating a Safe/Connected School Climate

1. Assess the school’s emotional climate.

Although no one wants to believe that this country’s educational institutions are anything other than safe and positive environments that support the learning experience, it is incumbent upon those in positions of responsibility to take a “step back” and gain perspective on the emotional climate of their schools. This perspective can be gained by systematically surveying students, faculty, and other important “stakeholders,” such as parents, administrators, school board members, and representatives of community groups who interact with the school about the emotional climate of schools. Anonymous surveys, face-to-face interviews, focus groups, and psychological measures integrated into a total assessment package all have been used to varying degrees to gather key “real time” data. It is essential that school administrators, parents, and community leaders not assume that they know school climates as do those individuals–especially students–who are most directly affected by the educational experience on a daily basis. Absent a thorough assessment of climate process, school officials and leaders may never have the opportunity to find out what they did not know.

The findings of climate surveys can inform efforts to plan ways to enhance safety and respect within the educational environment. It is important to give feedback about school climate data to all involved and affected parties. Sharing climate data establishes a foundation for building an integrated systems approach that will bring the central “players” to the table; empower students to make change; and connect the school to the community and parental support.

2. Emphasize the importance of listening in schools.

Pupils must listen respectfully to adults and to their peers, and teachers, administrators, and other adults must listen respectfully to their students and to each other. Grownups often expect that students listen to adults in authority. However, all too frequently adults forget that respectful listening is a “two-way street.” A school with a culture of “two-way listening” will encourage and empower students to have the courage to break the ingrained code of silence.

Listening also must be expanded beyond academic concerns. Communications between teachers and students also should include listening to feelings, especially those of hurt and pain. In addition, it is important to “listen” to behaviors. Many students, including some who consider violence an appropriate way to solve problems, have a difficult time finding the words to articulate the disenfranchisement, hurt, or fear that they may feel. Not knowing how to express their problems and feelings may prompt these students to take action. Adults who listen to behavior and assist students in learning how to articulate their feelings and experiences provide students with critical skills that can contribute to preventing and reducing violence.

3. Take a strong, but caring stance against the code of silence.

Silence leaves hurt unexposed and unacknowledged. Silence may encourage a young person to move along a path to violence.

4.Work actively to change the perception that talking to an adult about a student contemplating violence is considered “snitching.”

A school climate in which students connect to each other and to adults is one that promotes a safe and secure educational environment. A student who finds the courage to tell a caring adult about a friend in pain may save a life.

5. Find ways to stop bullying.

Bullying is a continuum of abuse, ranging from verbal taunts to physical threats to dangerous acts.22 Bullying is not playful behavior. In bullying, one student assumes power by word or deed over another in a mean-spirited and/or harmful manner. In a school with a culture of safety and connection, both the bully and the student who is the victim of the bullying are attended to in a respectful manner. Schools with climates of safety and respect are establishing foundations for pro-social behavior. These climates teach conflict resolution, peer mediation, active listening, and other non-violent ways to solve problems. In a safe school climate, adults do not bully students and do not bully each other,–and they do not turn a blind eye to bullying behavior when they know that it is going on in the school.

6. Empower students by involving them in planning, creating, and sustaining a school culture of safety and respect.

Creating a safe school climate is a process that should involve all members of the school community, including teachers, students, parents, counselors, administrators, health staff, security professionals, and support personnel. Climates of safety should be collaborative ones. Helping students to engage in positive, productive activities or work in their local community can diminish isolation and enhance connection and safety.

7. Ensure that every student feels that he or she has a trusting relationship with at least one adult at school.

Trusting relationships between adults and students are the products of quality connection, interaction, and communications. These relationships evolve and do not develop simply because an adult, such as a homeroom teacher or a guidance counselor, and a student have been ordered or assigned to interact with one another. Schools with cultures and climates of safety monitor students on a regular basis. School administrators should take steps to ensure that at least one adult at school knows what is happening with each student.

8. Create mechanisms for developing and sustaining safe school climates.

A mechanism for developing and sustaining safe school climates should serve as a vehicle for planning and monitoring the climate and culture of the school. This mechanism may involve administrators, teachers, counselors, students, school law enforcement and security staff, and other personnel. Questions to be considered in implementing this mechanism might include: What should be done to develop and support climates of safety? To what extent are teachers, administrators, and other school staff encouraged to focus on students’ social/emotional learning needs? How close is the school to achieving the goal of ensuring that every student feels that there is an adult to whom he or she can turn for talk, support, and advice if things get tough?

9. Be aware of physical environments and their effects on creating comfort zones.

Building structure, facility safety plans, lighting, space, and architecture, among other physical attributes of educational institutions, all can contribute to whether a school environment feels, or is in fact, safe or unsafe. In large schools, school administrators may wish to explore changes in the physical characteristics of the school that would permit the assignment of teachers and students to smaller, mutually intersecting and supportive groupings within the broader educational community.

10. Emphasize an integrated systems model.

People support most what they believe they have had genuine input in creating. This requires the difficult but necessary task of bringing all of the stakeholders to the table. Stakeholders include: students, teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, law enforcement personnel, after-school and community-based groups, and others. Stakeholders must struggle with questions such as the definition of “fairness,” “threat,” “consequence,” and “change” as these concepts fit into the unique context of each school, school system, and the surrounding community.

11. All climates of safety ultimately are “local.”

Many local factors contribute to the creation of a culture and climate of safety. These factors include: the leadership–”open door” role of the school principal; “empowered buy-in” of student groups; connections to the local community and its leaders; and the respectful integration into the safe school climates process of “safekeepers,” such as parents and law enforcement personnel close to the school.

Schools that have succeeded in creating safe school climates have done so because of their recognition that such climates of safety actually “raise the bar” on sound educational expectations, which, in turn, keep students engaged and learning at high levels. Such schools achieve their aims by realizing that safe school climates are not created overnight. Implementation of the safe school climates process requires planning and dedicated work. Participants in this process need adequate feedback and evaluative processes to sustain and continually improve educational environments. To work effectively, safe school climates that create relationships of respect and connection between adults and students must be accepted as integral to the mission of threat assessment and management, and understood from “the top down” as integral to the success of the learning experience.


Publications At The Foundation Of Liberal Gun Owners’ Threat Assessment Advocacy

Assessing Student Threats: Implementing the Salem-Keizer System, 2nd Edition (John Van Dreal)

This is a manual for the application of a threat assessment system that follows the recommendations of the Safe Schools Initiative and the prescriptive outline provided by the FBI. Written from an educator’s perspective with contributing authors from Law Enforcement, Public Mental Health, and the District Attorney’s office, it contains an introduction to the basic concepts of threat assessment, a review of the research, and an outlined process for the application of a comprehensive, yet expeditious multi-disciplinary system. The book also includes the forms and protocols needed to assess threats, document concerns and interventions, and track the progress of supervision. As extra features, chapters on site security, community safety, domestic violence and teen dating violence, communicating with potential victims, training school resource officers, adult threat assessment, and an adaptation of the system for higher education are included.

www.studentthreatassessment.org

All of the following publications can be found at The National Threat Assessment Center’s website under Research & Publications.

The Exceptional Case Study Project (ECSP) (Fein, Vossekuil, et al. 1999.)

This study analyzed the thinking and behavior of 83 persons known to have engaged in 74 incidents of assassination, attack, and near-lethal approach against a prominent person of public status in the United States from 1949 to 1996.

The Final Report And Findings Of The Safe School Initiative : Implications For The Prevention Of School Attacks In The United States (U.S. Dept. of Education And The U.S. Secret Service — 2002.)

The Safe School Initiative was implemented through the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center and the Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. The Initiative drew from the Secret Service’s experience in studying and preventing assassination and other types of targeted violence and the Department of Education’s expertise in helping schools facilitate learning through the creation of safe environments for students, faculty, and staff.

Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates (U.S. Dept. of Education And The U.S. Secret Service — 2002.)

This guide takes the takes the findings of the Safe School Initiative one step further by setting forth a process for identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools.

Bystander Study

(U.S. Dept. of Education And The U.S. Secret Service — 2008)

This study served as a follow-up to the Safe School Initiative (SSI). One of the most significant findings from the SSI was that prior to most school-based attacks, other children knew what was going to happen. Researchers interviewed friends, classmates, siblings, and others in whom school attackers confided their ideas prior to the incident. Other interviews included students who came forward with information regarding a planned school-based attack, and are believed to have prevented an attack from happening.

Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions of Higher Education

(U.S. Dept. of Education , The U.S. Secret Service and The Federal Bureau Of Investigation — 2010)

This study analyzed 272 incidents of targeted violence that affected U.S. colleges and universities from 1900 to 2008.

The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective

(The Federal Bureau Of Investigation, Critical Incident Response Group — 1999.)

https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/stats-services-publications-school-shooter-school-shooter

Additional Resources

(This list will grow over time)

Ten Threat Assessment Research Publications: The Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (D. Cornell, et al.)

Virginia Student Threat Assessment Model, Studies, And Testimonies (D. Cornell, et al.)

https://curry.virginia.edu/faculty-research/centers-labs-projects/research-labs/youth-violence-project/virginia-student-threat

Enhancing School Safety Using A Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence (United States Secret Service — 2018)

The Los Angeles Unified School District Threat Assessment Documents And Resources

https://achieve.lausd.net/Page/2203

National Association Of School Psychologists: Threat Assessment for School Administrators & Crisis Teams

https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/threat-assessment-at-school/threat-assessment-for-school-administrators-and-crisis-teams

FBI Active Shooter Resources

The FBI has an extraordinary amount of resources in regards to this issue. They will provie free training and consulatatin to local law enforcement on targeted shootings and and mass casuality incidents.

https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources

Mid-Willamette Valley Student Threat Assessment Survey Results

http://www.studentthreatassessment.org/measured-success