How is it that we are missing the signals students are sending us when they are on a path towards violence? This is a question that has been asked after pondering the failures of the system in Parkland, Florida that resulted in 17 deaths.
It appears in some communities there is a pattern of disorganization when it comes to identifying and monitoring students who are at risk for violence. Each system seems to focus on individuals only when they are part of their system; i.e., law enforcement monitors those who commit crimes, schools monitor those who are students, etc. When this occurs, it is a form of professional myopia, where every agency “stays in their lane” and only consults with others when incidents rise to a critical level. By that time, emergency response, and the all-to-familiar post-incident response, becomes the norm.
To offset this tendency, a number of schools, law enforcement, mental health/substance abuse, and social service agencies have more recently adopted the use of “threat assessment/management” teams, where they can mutually track at-risk individuals and develop intervention plans as the signals for violence escalate. However, eroding funds during the recent recession caused many of these programs to evaporate. Each agency needs sufficient funds to proactively address the needs of vulnerable individuals as they are identified. Enhanced funding would go a long way to providing more comprehensive services and fostering a safer school and community climate.
(Apperson is the retired director of the Washington State School Safety Center-OSPI.)