Threat Assessment

Rationale and Guiding Principles

The Safe School Initiative began in June of 1999 to explore the potential for adapting the threat assessment process developed by the Secret Service to the problem of preventing targeted school violence. Findings of the Safe School Initiative indicates that incidents of targeted school violence were rarely impulsive; that individuals who perpetrated these attacks usually planned out the attack in advance - with planning behavior that was often observable; and that prior to most attacks other children knew that the attack was going to occur. Taken together, these findings suggest that it may be possible to prevent some future attacks from occurring and that efforts to identify, assess and manage students who may have the intent and capacity to launch an attack may be a promising strategy for prevention.

The findings of the Safe School Initiative do suggest productive actions that educators, law enforcement and other community members can use to respond to the problem of targeted school violence. Specifically threat assessment in Poudre School District schools in collaboration with community resources will focus efforts to formulate strategies for preventing violent attacks in two principal areas:

  1. Developing the capacity to pick up on and evaluate available or knowable information that might indicate that there is a risk of targeted school attack; and,
  2. Employing the results of risk evaluations, or “threat assessments,” in developing strategies to prevent potential school attacks from occurring.

Six principles form the foundation of the threat assessment process. These principles are:

  1. Targeted violence is the end result of an understandable, and oftentimes discernible process of thinking and behavior.
  2. Targeted violence stems from an interaction among the individual(s), the situation, the setting and the target.
  3. An investigative, skeptical, inquisitive mind set is critical to successful threat assessment.
  4. Effective threat assessment is based upon facts rather than on characteristics or “traits.”
  5. An “integrated systems approach” should guide threat assessment inquiries and investigations.
  6. The central question in threat assessment inquiry or investigation is whether a student poses a threat, not whether the student has made a threat.

In addition there are five guiding elements that guide the development and operation of an effective school threat assessment program. These elements are:

  1. Authority to conduct an assessment;
  2. Capacity to conduct inquiries and investigations;
  3. Immediate response to perceived threats;
  4. Development of management/support intervention plans for the general population in the setting, the target(s) and the individual making the threat; and,
  5. Systems relationships.” *

For more information on Poudre School District’s threat assessment process, contact Mark Gronstal, Threat Assessment Coordinator, at 970-566-2326 or email at gronstal@psdschools.org.

* From ‘ Threat Assessment in Schools: A guide to managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates”, May 2002, United States Secret Service & United States Department of Education; Robert A Fein, Ph.D. (National Violence Prevention and Study Center), Bryan Vossekuil (National Violence Prevention and Study Center), William S. Pollack Ph.D. (National Violence Prevention and Study Center, Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital), Randy Borum, Psy.D. (University of South Florida), William Modzeleski (Director Safe and Drug Free Schools, U.S. Dept of Education), Marissa Reddy, Ph.D. (Chief research psychologist and research coordinator for National Threat Assessment Center, U.S. Secret Service).