Since 1996 we have had about 43 major Junior and High school shootings and stabbings within the U.S. The age groups that this paper focusses on are about 31 incidences from ages 13 to 16, and 12 incidences from ages 17-20. There were only two occurrences involving shooters under age 12. There are more from college age groups above the age of 21 at different types of colleges and universities and is not a part of this proposal. However, it could be related in terms of higher education security policies.
The interesting facts are that there appears to be some similar school types and locations. They are suburban and rural settings, mostly public schools, and non-prestigious types. These young school killers appear to be more apt to be from normal families. There is mostly no history of religious or racial hatred. Yet, after the fact, we have learned there were tendencies by internet reading, site viewing, and statements made in class to hint at future possible unstable actions. We cannot intervene on the possibility that someone will do future harm, or that is what we are led to believe.
Consider DUI checkpoints, random housing checks, and stop and searches on the border without probable cause. Therefore, there is precedence for intervention before an actual harm is done—especially if it is not arrest related. What this paper suggest is identifying possible unstable students and providing them with some sense of self-worth. Afterwards, we can intervene to further provide social assistance. Finally, special training should be given to police and security guards to develop a report with all apparently normal students and some obvious erratic students before they act out.
Changing Behaviors and Learning Self Worth
One can see that most of the young killers are in the Junior High grades at ages between 13 and 16. Typically, psychology classes are not offered to this age group. What might be necessary is a class before age 13 or at 13 to teach positive self-worth and acceptable social behaviors. This could be included in a social science class or one specifically to address venting or expressing frustration. Perhaps, there could be several special classes taught in a regular social science class by the guidance counselors concerning this.
These classes or presentations can stress that everyone has difficult backgrounds at one level or another. Also, everyone is unique and can contribute to society in an acceptable way. Major sports athletes, musicians, famous technology innovators, and politicians can be given as examples. Finally, interviews or presentations by adult violent criminals about their lost lives and regrets about committing crimes can be shown via videos.
Preventing or identifying possible future assaults cannot be done completely. But if we can prevent one youthful horrific killing we have succeeded. It will not cost us any more money as teachers and counselors are already there. They have special training on an individual basis, we just need to give group class lectures. Identifying potential future acts can be done by utilizing visual arts. Such as having students draw pictures of a peaceful day at the beach or in the mountains. Also, pictures of difficult times. They can be analyzed by counselors and these professionals, in turn can initiate early intervention without putting the student in an awkward position. Counselors have these skills.
After initial identification of potential problem students they can be interviewed to express the schools support of them in pursuing art, athletics, music, or the technologies. Always stressing their individual uniqueness and that they can achieve great things in life. Constant support with parents, teachers, and counselors should be ongoing. The key must be early intervention before group think and negative socialization starts. We can break these negative influences if we want and the schools provide a curriculum and policy that allows it.
Special School Police and Security Guard Training
Maybe the most difficult security job or policing assignment is with our schools. There we must protect young children from terrible crimes while at the same time develop a sense of trust and understanding. Officers must receive special training in adolescent behaviors, psychological issues, and cultural sensitivity. They cannot just come off the streets and stand guard at a school. It is impossible to secure every entrance and search for weapons on each student. These officers must rely on the students to help out.
These duty assignments should be seen as special rewarded duty. After all, these students will enter the work force and be out in society after graduation. Developing strong social bonds early can have many rewards later on in life for law enforcement. Carrying a gun, weapon, or taser at a school presents many possible problems. The one big one is when to use them. Most officers never want to use force and in a setting with many other young children, the chances of others being injured or killed is greatly increased. Clearly, special training in the use of force must be given stressing de-escalation of aggressive behaviors.
The best way to prevent the use of force is to have relationships with all the students. Even encouraging the so called “trouble makers” to build some type of bonds with security officers. Maybe offices should suggest a career in corrections, policing, or counseling to these youths. Or at least make daily conversation to continue to assess their personal attitudes and attempt to identify possible student personal issues. Officers are there to protect but also serve. Why not have them serve the school by suggesting potential problems? If we can prevent just one incident, we have succeeded.
Schools should look at this position as a very important part of their basic function—to not only provide quality education, but to do it in a safe environment. Hiring the cheapest company to protect the schools might not be to the advantage of all. Maybe, they should consider hiring retired police officers that have years of a variety of skills and are known by the students and community. Retired officers have valuable experience with dealing with troubled people and interacting with them. They would be a great asset to the schools.
Most of the school shootings and stabbings since 1996 have been from ages 13 to 16, followed by 17 to 20 years of age. It is a rare event that an adult goes on the rampage killing people at school. There appears no religious or racial variable connected to these incidents. The schools seem to be normal except that most are located in rural areas. Identifying younger students that have a potential to kill or harm is next to impossible. Therefore a broad prevention policy should be developed and targeted at all students.
Special self-worth classes or seminars should be given to all students. This not only might prevent future attacks, but gives society a better group of future citizens and could reduce student dropout rates. In these presentations we can change behaviors by showing students they are all unique and can have a very bright future—if they stay in school, discuss their problems with a counselor, and work more on education and less on small group acceptance and watching violent videos.
Special training must be given to the security professionals at schools. This must include some form of identifying troubled youth and reaching out to them. In addition, this must go further than just being a guard, but a professional which can develop bonds with some youths which seem to have no family life, friends, or positive outlook. Officers must seek out and encourage relationships with all students. This goes far beyond than just feel good policing, but rather actual future based social links that will help everyone in the community. School security should be seen as rewarded assignment and not negative or mundane. We should encourage security guards to get involved with outside school activities for all students. This hopefully will include the unknown future assailant. Perhaps, incentive pay should be given.
“Timeline of Worldwide School and Mass Shootings.” Infoplease.com 10-30-2015.
Dr. Kuch holds a PhD, MA, and MS in criminal justice. He has spent most of his career as an adjunct faculty member in social sciences and worked in student advising. He has written about a variety of police issues. His current research and publications are about preventative terrorism policies. He lives in Istanbul, Turkey and is on the adjunct faculty at Galatasaray University.