Incidents of targeted violence in the school setting are not characteristically sudden, impulsive acts. Prior to most incidents, many individuals engage in some behavior that caused concern or indicated a need for help, and often other people know about ideas and/or plans. However, there is no precise “profile” of students who engage in targeted school violence. As such, the assessment of threatening statements or behavior is an important service to protecting the safety of children and adults in the school.
This assessment process is an approach to addressing targeted school violence. It is a data-driven approach that is based on a systematic examination of the facts and evidence of behavior in a given situation from multiple perspectives. The appraisal of risk in a threat assessment focuses on actions, communications, contextual factors, and specific circumstances that informs risk and protective factors relevant to risk of violence toward self or others.
The assessment is considered the starting point of an intervention and case management process that specifically considers relevant historical information, targets gaps in service and support, and identifies a process for addressing needs and risks.
The process is based on the following principles1:
• Targeted violence is the end result of an understandable, and oftentimes discernible, process of thinking and behavior.
• Targeted violence stems from an interaction among the individual, the situation, the setting, and the target.
• An investigative, skeptical, inquisitive mindset is critical to successful threat assessment.
• Effective threat assessment is based upon facts rather than on characteristics or “traits.”
• An “integrated systems approach” should guide threat assessment inquiries and investigations.
• The central question in a threat assessment inquiry or investigation is whether a student poses a threat, not whether the student has made a threat.
Fein, R., Vossekuil, B., Pollack, W., Borum, R., Modzeleski, W., & Reddy, M. Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program and U.S. Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center, Washington, D.C., 2004.