School Threat Assessments

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Unfortunately, conducting school threat assessments of potential offenders is becoming more commonplace. In School Safety 101, the following information for threat assessment team members assists them in determining both the type of threat and the level of concern.  Both of these elements are necessary in order to make an informed decision regarding school and/or law enforcement response.

The Four Types of Threats

There are four types of threats: direct, indirect, veiled, and conditional.

A direct threat identifies a specific act against a specific target and is delivered in a straight-forward, clear, and explicit manner. An indirect threat tends to be vague, unclear, and ambiguous. While violence is implied, the threat may be phrased tentatively. A veiled threat is one that hints at a possible violent act, but leaves it to the potential victim to interpret the message. It does not explicitly threaten violence. Last, a conditional threat is one typically seen in extortion cases.  It warns that a violent act will happen unless certain demands or terms are (or are not) met.

Assessing Threats

      In the next section, our attention turns to the actual concerns and factors involved in the threat assessment process.

Threat Assessment Concerns

When conducting a threat assessment, the Threat Assessment Team considers both concerns and factors to determine how to classify the threat and most appropriately respond. Concerns include:

Credibility – what is the credibility of the reporting person?

Seriousness – how serious would the consequences be if the threat was carried out?

Resources – what resources would the perpetrator need to carry out the threat?

Intent – what is the intent of the threatener?

Motivation – what is the motivation of the threatener?

Threat Assessment Factors

Four types of  school threat assessments factors are:

Plausible Details - includes identity of victim; reason for threat; the means, weapons, and method by which it will be carried out; date, time, place, and information about plans or preparations already made (Ex: details that are specific such as “I built a bomb using stuff in my garage and it’s going to explode during lunchtime.”)

Specific Details - indicate substantial thought, planning, and preparatory steps taken, suggesting higher level of risk that threatener will follow through with threat. (Ex: Student tells teacher that he has been following her, and that tomorrow when she goes to the parking lot to eat lunch and read her book in the car he will shoot her with a gun he borrowed from his older brother).

Emotional content - watch for melodramatic words, unusual punctuation, or incoherent passages referring to God or an ultimatum. (Ex: “I hate you! You have destroyed my life! God will punish you!”)

Precipitating factors - incidents, circumstances, or reactions that can trigger threat.  (Ex:  Before leaving for school, student has a fight with his mother, which  sets off emotional chain that leads to threat).

Primary Threat Concerns

When evaluating a threat, the two primary concerns are:

How credible and serious is the threat itself?

To what extent does the person making the threat appear to have the resources, intent, and motivation to carry out the threat?

Plausible Details

  • The identity of the victim(s)
  • Reason for the threat
  • Means, weapon, and method
  • Date, time and place
  • Plans or preparations already made

Some possible plausible details that the Threat Assessment Team should be aware of may include dates, times, specific places, general locations, weapons, practice drills, training, specific preparations, etc.

Specific Details

  • Substantial thought
  • Planning
  • Preparatory steps

Specific details may include what steps have been taken to prepare, including the securing of weapons, practice with weapons, and recruitment of others.

Emotional Content

  • Melodramatic words
  • Unusual punctuation
  • Incoherent passages referring to God
  • Ultimatum

Threats with emotional content that should be considered by the Threat Assessment Team may be phrased like: “God will get you for this” or “You have ruined my entire life!  It’s over now and you will pay!”

Precipitating Factors

  • Incidents
  • Circumstances
  • Reactions
  • Situations

Examples of precipitating factors may include: failing grade or failed tests, parent job loss, divorce in family, etc.