Partnering with the Secret Service to Secure U.S. Schools

Secret Service and Dept. of Education 'Safe School Initiative' offers assessment methods for school security directors


In the aftermath of the school shooting at the high school in Campbell County, Tenn., many parents will be asking your school district about what can be done to prevent incidents likes this from occurring in the future. One part of the answer may be close at hand, but not all school districts are taking advantage.

While the details of what happened in Jacksboro, Tenn., may never be fully known but experts seem to agree that schools need more than just physical security devices to adequately safeguard our children. One such program that was released three years ago is described below, and it's highly applicable for today's educational facility security directors facing increased concern from community leaders and area parents.

Starting in 1999 and concluding in 2002, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education coordinated on the Safe School Initiative, a study of school shootings and other school-based attacks. The purpose of the study was to provide information to school districts that would assist in preventing school shootings.

According to the Secret Service, report: "The focus of the study was on developing information about the school shooter's pre-attack behaviors and communications. The goal was to identify information about a school shooting that may be identifiable or noticeable before the shooting occurs, to help inform efforts to prevent school-based attacks. The study found that school shootings are rarely impulsive acts. Rather, they are typically thought out and planned out in advance.

"In addition, prior to most shootings other kids knew the shooting was to occur -- but did not alert an adult. Very few of the attackers, however, ever directed threats to their targets before the attack.

"The study findings also revealed that there is no ‘profile’ of a school shooter; instead, the students who carried out the attacks differed from one another in numerous ways. However, almost every attacker had engaged in behavior before the shooting that seriously concerned at least one adult - and for many had concerned three or more different adults.

"The findings from the study suggest that some school attacks may be preventable, and that students can play an important role in prevention efforts. Using the study findings, the Secret Service and Department of Education have modified the Secret Service threat assessment approach for use in schools - to give school and law enforcement professionals tools for investigating threats in school, managing situations of concern, and creating safe school climates."

The Secret Service and Department of Education study released 10 major findings:

  • Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely are sudden, impulsive acts.
  • Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker's idea and/or plan to attack.
  • Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
  • There is no accurate or useful "profile" of students who engage in targeted school violence.
  • Most attackers engaged in some behavior, prior to the incident, that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
  • Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Many had considered or attempted suicide.
  • Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.
  • Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.
  • In many cases, other students were involved in the attack in some capacity.
  • Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most attacks were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention and most were brief in duration.

David Deloria, superintendent of the Livonia Central School District in New York is one school district that has taken the initiative to implement the Targeted Threat Assessment Program. He explains how the process worked for his school.

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