U.S. Secret Service Report on School Violence

back of school busThe United States Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) issued a report analyzing targeted school violence. This report expands upon twenty years of NTAC research in threat assessment and violence prevention. In line with this effort, NTAC conducted a study of 41 incidents of targeted school violence from 2008 to 2017. This study did not include attacks where “a perpetrator could not be identified, or incidents related to gang violence, drug violence, or other incidents with a strong suggestion of a separate criminal nexus.”

The report includes the following key findings:

  • It is impossible to identify a specific attacker profile or the types of schools where attacks occur;
  • Usually motivations to attack involve multiple social stressors, including grievances related to school staff, classmates, personal relationships, or home environment;
  • Most attacks involve the use of firearms, which attackers often acquire from their homes;
  • Most attackers have histories of observable mental and behavioral health symptoms, including instances of disciplinary actions or contact with law enforcement;
  • Half of the attackers expressed interest in violent topics prior to the attack;
  • Most attackers experienced bullying at some point; and
  • All attackers exhibited “objectively concerning or prohibited” behaviors and most communicated their intent to attack.

Taking these observations into consideration, the report underscores the role of prevention when addressing potentially high-risk situations. Significantly, the best practice of prevention must include a multidisciplinary threat assessment team along with adequate policies, tools, as well as regular training. In particular, the report emphasizes that “punitive measures are not preventative,” especially when addressing high-risk disciplinary situations. Furthermore, as timely communications are essential in preventing attacks, schools, students, and parents should be encouraged to report concerning behavioral patterns for appropriate interventions to take place.

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