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by Jeffrey W. Pollard, PhD, ABPP and Marisa R. Randazzo, PhD

Since the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, many schools, school districts, and legislators across the country are looking at whether school threat assessment programs could help enhance school safety.  As schools, communities, and legislators consider the merits of school threat assessment, we encourage them to take a look at the School Threat Assessment Response Team program that serves schools throughout Los Angeles county.  An article in the The New York Times describes the inner workings of this program, which was originally developed by the Los Angeles Police Department and is financed under California’s Mental Health Services Act.  Reporter Erica Goode describes the program as “one of the most intensive efforts in the nation to identify the potential for school violence and take steps to prevent it.” 

“Threat assessment” – whether in a school, college, workplace, or the community – is essentially a systematic fact-finding process.  A threat assessment team addresses threats and other alarming behavior by gathering objective information, analyzing the information to determine if someone is planning to engage in violence, and if so, implementing a strategy to help solve the problems that are driving the person to consider violence in the first place.  The concept of using threat assessment to prevent school violence was developed by the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education, following their landmark study of school shootings that showed that prevention is possible.

 The School Threat Assessment Response Team program in Los Angeles is an excellent example of school threat assessment programs currently in operation at numerous schools and colleges across the country.  The Los Angeles program is noteworthy for how information is shared lawfully among agencies, for making assessments that are fact-based rather than based on stereotypes or profiling, and for the degree of follow-up they conduct to keep track of worrisome students and help connect them with resources to address their underlying needs.  For any school or school district looking to develop a school threat assessment program, the Los Angeles program offers a helpful model for guidance.  More details on setting up and operating a school threat assessment program can be found in “Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and Creating Safe School Climates,” published by U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education.