Safe School Initiative: implications for the prevention of schools attacks in the United States

Littleton, Colorado; Springfield, Oregon; West Paducah, Kentucky; Jonesboro, Arkansas. These communities have become familiar to many Americans as the locations where school shootings have occurred in recent years. School shootings are a rare, but significant, component of school violence in America. It is clear that
other kinds of problems are far more common than the targeted attacks that have taken place in schools across this country. However, each school-based attack has
had a tremendous and lasting effect on the school in which it occurred, the surrounding community, and the nation as a whole. In the aftermath of these tragic
events, educators, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, parents, and others have asked: “Could we have known that these attacks were being
planned?” and, “What can be done to prevent future attacks from occurring?”
In June 1999, following the attack at Columbine High School, our two agencies–the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education–launched a collaborative effort to begin to answer these questions. The result was the Safe School Initiative, an extensive examination of 37 incidents of targeted school shootings and school attacks that have occurred in the United States beginning with the earliest identified incident in 1974 through June 2000. The focus of the Safe School Initiative was on examining the thinking, planning, and other behaviors engaged in by students who carried out school attacks. Particular attention was given to identifying pre-attack behaviors and communications that might be detectable–or “knowable”–and could help in preventing some future attacks.
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Crime in Schools and Colleges: A Study of Offenders and Arrestees Reported via National Incident-Based Reporting System Data

Schools and colleges are valued institutions that help build upon the Nation’s foundations and serve as an arena where the growth and stability of future generations begin. Crime in schools and colleges is therefore one of the most troublesome social problems in the Nation today. Not only does it affect those involved in the criminal incident, but it also hinders societal growth and stability. In that light, it is vital to understand the characteristics surrounding crime in schools, colleges, and universities and the offenders who reportedly commit these offenses so that law enforcement, policy makers, school administrators, and the public can properly combat and reduce the amount of crime occurring at these institutions.

Tremendous resources have been used to develop a myriad of federal and nonfederal studies that focus on identifying the characteristics surrounding violent crime, property crime, and/or crimes against society in schools. The objective of such studies is to identify and measure the crime problem facing the Nation’s more than 90,000 schools and the nearly 50 million students in attendance.1 The findings of these studies have generated significant debates surrounding the actual levels of violent and nonviolent crimes and the need for preventative policies. Some research indicates there has been an increase in school violence activities, such as a study from the School Violence Resource Center which showed that the percentage of high school students who were threatened or injured with a weapon increased from 1993 to 2001.2 Other research notes decreases in student victimization rates for both violent and nonviolent crimes during a similar time period (1992–2002).3 Moreover, the circumstances surrounding crime in schools, colleges, and universities are not always the ones that gain wide notoriety. The most significant problems in schools are not necessarily issues popularly considered important as most conflicts are related to everyday school interactions.4 Furthermore, the National Center for Education Statistics notes that “it is difficult to gauge the scope of crime and violence in schools without collecting data, given the large amount of attention devoted to isolated incidents of extreme school violence.”5 These conflicting conclusions concerning the ability to measure the overall situation of crime in school, college, and university environments make it difficult for policy makers to assess the effectiveness of policies and their impact on this phenomenon.

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