The Oxford High School shooting is the deadliest shooting on school property this year. The tragedy, like all other school shootings, has affected the entire nation, leaving students, staff, and guardians on edge. Copycat threats in nearby schools have since increased significantly.
Dr. Wally Wojciechowski, Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice Assistant Professor, is not surprised. “We do generally see a one to two-week kind of copycat period so-to-speak where you see increased rates of threats or even perpetrated acts of mass violence,” he said in an interview with TV6 News. These copycats typically make threats for attention and do not understand the severe consequences of their actions. There is also alarming research that suggests school shootings are contagious.
It is always the right time to evaluate school safety plans, but this year makes this especially important. Below are three ways schools can be better prepared to address threats.
1 - Empower the Community to Speak Up
“Research indicates that in most cases of school violence, students are aware of concerning behaviors before school officials are,” according to the Idaho School Safety and Security report that analyzed a 2021 middle school shooting.
Several students saw the attacker make concerning posts on social media, and one student saw a drawing the attacker created that depicted a gun and a school. Some students also noticed the attacker’s appearance and level of social engagement changed. While these students were concerned, they did not share their insight with school staff until after the shooting.
Schools must have a method of gathering information about concerning behavior, like leveraging confidential tip lines, and ensuring students, staff, and the community are aware of its importance and how to use it.
2- Assess Every Threat
It’s important schools have a multi-disciplinary threat assessment team that will respond to and thoroughly vet every threat. Craig Miller, retired Chief of Police for the Dallas ISD Police Department, shared that threats are what keep him up at night. These threats, he said, are what lead to the potential of an active shooter. Chief Miller also reminds us that it’s not just large schools that receive threats. All schools, regardless of size or location, need to be ready to respond to threats and emergencies.
Schools should collaborate with mental health professionals. While law enforcement is investigating threats and making sure the school is protected, mental health professionals can begin addressing the student’s grievance. “If we can get out in front of things, identify a particular grievance, and stop a potential attack before it happens, we save all of those lives,” Chief Frank Kitzerow, President of the National Association of School and Campus Police Chiefs and former District Police Chief with Palm Beach County, says.
3- Create a School Safety Ecosystem
Each school must have a robust school safety ecosystem, which is a toolbox of various components that can help schools quickly and efficiently respond to incidents. The toolbox considers things like safety and security, response and recovery processes, and what technology or software the school will use to prepare for and streamline emergency response.
When thinking about what technology to include, Chief Kitzerow recommends schools start with an assessment. “It’s never a one-size-fits-all. Take inventory of what you have now, what’s working for you, and if you are using [the technology] to the best of its ability.” Consider if you are truly prepared for violent attacks and whether you have the resources to save the lives of everyone on campus. Law enforcement can also help schools evaluate and purchase safety equipment and technology.