What Does the Secret Service Know?

Quite a bit - especially when it comes to violence on campus.

After years of intensive research of school shooting incidents, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education released a guide to targeted violence and threat assessment in schools.

Chuck Friend, Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Secret Service, will present the findings of the study at next month's Campus Safety Conference in Austin, TX.

Campus Safety Journal recently asked Friend for a sneak peek at the outline of his presentation at the Feb. 3-4, 2003, training conference in Texas.

Friend told CSJ that the Secret Service got involved in the project "as part of its mission to provide leadership and guidance in the prevention of instances of targeted violence."

The Secret Service Safety School Initiative is a data-based research project that examines school-based attacks. Since 1999, members of the Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center have been conducting the Safe School Initiative, an operational study of 37 U.S. school shootings (involving) 41 perpetrators) over the past 25 years.

"Researchers examined school shootings, starting from the incident and working backward to development of the original idea," says Friend. "Through this incident-focused, behavior-based analysis, NTAC researchers hope to increase understanding of the patterns of communication, planning and preparation that precede these attacks."

The goal of the Safe School Initiative is to provide accurate and useful information to school administrators, educators, law enforcement professionals, and others who have protective and safety responsibilities in schools to help prevent incidents of school-based targeted violence.

KEY findings

Friend's presentation will take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb 4, and will focus on the implications of the following 10 key findings of the study:

  1. Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely are sudden, impulsive acts. Students who engaged in school-based attacks typically did not "just snap" and engage in impulsive or random acts of targeted school violence.
  2. Before most incidents, other people knew about the attacker's idea and/or plan to attack. In most cases, other young persons - friends, schoolmates and/or siblings - knew about the attacker's idea or plan for a possible attack on the school before it occurred. However, this information rarely made its way to an adult.
  3. Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly before advancing the attack. The Safe School Initiative found that most attackers, in fact, did not threaten their target directly, and some made no threat at all.
  4. There is no accurate or useful "profile" of students who engage in targeted school violence. The demographic, personality, school history and social characteristics of the attackers varied substantially.
  5. Most attackers engaged in some behavior, before the incident, that caused others concern or indicated a need for help. Several key findings point to the fact that young people send signals - both direct and indirect - to others regarding their problems.
  6. Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Many had considered or attempted suicide. Many students, not just those who engaged in school-based attacks, experience or perceive major losses in their lives.
  7. Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others before the attack. Bullying was not a factor in every case, and clearly not every student who is bullied with pose a risk for targeted violence in school.
  8. Most attackers had access to and had used weapons before the attack. Most acquired weapons from their home or the home of a relative. Approximately two-thirds of attackers had a history of using guns before the attack.
  9. In many cases, other students were involved in the attack in some capacity. The Safe School Initiative found that in more than half of the incidents, others assisted in the planning or execution of the attack by actively encouraging the attacker to shoot others at school, or even helping to select targets and train the shooter in how to use a weapon.
  10. Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most attacks were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention, and most were brief in duration. Law enforcement authorities responded quickly to almost all calls from schools about attacks. However, most attacks were resolved within minutes, without law enforcement intervention.

In addition to the Secret Service presentation, 12 other seminars and two intensive training sessions will focus on the major safety and security issues at colleges/universities and secondary schools.

The Secret Service's Safe School Initiative was developed for campus safety professionals, school administrators, educators and law enforcement personnel. Some of the authors of the research into school shootings, pictured, will present their findings at the Campus Safety Conference Feb. 3-4, 2003, in Austin, TX.

Managing Bomb Threat Incidents at Schools - Learn the skills necessary to successfully plan for and manage bomb threat incidents at schools.

Prevention, Intervention, Response - Learn what makes School Resource Officers effective in school settings.

A complete schedule for the training conference is available at www.campusjournal.com.

For more information on these training conferences for campus safety professionals, please call 310.390.5277 x 4 or visit www.campusjournal.com