Preparing for School Violence with Treatment Assessment Management (TAM)
By Kostas A. Katsavdakis, PhD, ABPP
Many school districts administrators and parents continue to believe that active shooter incidents cannot and will not occur within their school district. This belief stems from a series of biases that school officials and parents possess, including the idea that children from certain types of backgrounds are unlikely to carry out a threat and/or engage in violent behavior. However, the scientific literature examining school shootings and school-shooters teaches us that there is no universal profile of a school shooter.
School districts throughout the United States and on Long Island employ target hardening tactics to increase safety. These tactics include, but are not limited to, key-card access doors, surveillance cameras, security officers, and—more recently across a number of districts in Long Island—armed security officers. While target hardening tactical approaches provide a measure of increased security, they are considered technical versus adaptational interventions. These measures do not fully consider that school shootings are very short-lived events. In addition, in most cases, the shooter would have already probed/breached the perimeter to ensure a decreased chance being detected or apprehended. It is very unlikely that a school shooter will enter the school through a location secured by an armed guard. During an ongoing active shooter situation, armed guards will have to attend to numerous emergencies, including helping injured persons, distracting them from pursuing and containing the shooter.
Target hardening and ecological controls are but one component of Threat Assessment and Management. Over the last 20 years, the scientific literature has repeatedly concluded that an effective method to manage threats is via a structured, formal, comprehensive and multi-disciplinary method aligned with target hardening tactics. The utilization of target hardening approaches, which are considered technical solutions, work best when integrated with adaptive solutions such as formal training of threat assessment/management models for school personnel, identifying biases within the evaluation process, assessing individuals who display behavior potentially signaling malign intent, regularly scheduled updates/trainings and utilization review of the threat assessment/management processes.
Target hardening tactics and adaptive solutions should work in synchrony, dynamically adjusted as data is gathered, making Threat Assessment and Management an ongoing dynamic, rather than static, process. Unfortunately, school districts often implement “informal” threat assessment procedures once an identified subject is brought to the school’s attention. In the 21st Century, these “informal” procedures fall short of standards of practice in the field of Threat Assessment and Management.
When school shootings occur, unfortunate and tragic events unfold, victims’ families suffer unspeakable loss and the school may remain liable for errors and omissions resulting from “informal” threat assessment processes, often exposed during depositions in civil litigation. Moreover, school districts may confuse threat versus risk assessment processes. In conclusion, technical solutions, such as cameras and security measures, are but one pieces to adaptive solutions, which involves formal training, repeated practices, identification of potential biases and increased frequency of assessing subjects of interest.
This is the first in a series of article for The Summit Report. Over the coming months, I will outline the standards of practice in the field of Threat Assessment and Management teams in K-12 settings including the differences and similarities between Threat and Risk Assessment, the make-up of a Threat Assessment Team and concrete behavioral and operational indicators relevant in the assessment of a potential subject of interest.
About the Author
Kostas A. Katsavdskis, PhD, ABPP is a Licensed Psychologist & Diplomate in Forensic Psychology and Associate Professor-Adjunct at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In addition to his clinical practice, Dr. Katsavdakis provides evaluations and testimony in violent crime cases and conducts counter-terrorism threat assessments for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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