2013-03-22

Co.Exist

Can Better Data Stop School Shootings?

A program in Los Angeles keeps an eye on potential school shooters before disaster strikes.

One particularly divisive response to the Sandy Hook school shooting has been the call from the right to put more guns into schools, so teachers and administrators can protect themselves and their students against the bullets of a rogue gunman. But in Los Angeles, the school system is modeling the effectiveness of a different kind of weapon to prevent mass shootings before they happen: better data about potentially violent students.

The New York Times report examines L.A. County’s School Threat Assessment Response Team, an initiative first started in 2007, after the Virginia Tech shooting. The program provides a way for teachers, counselors, school administrators, staff, and parents to pass on their concerns about a possibly violent student to the county’s mental health department. Then, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and school administrators collaborate to assess the severity of the situation.

The program’s director, Dr. Tony Beliz, explains:

“We’ll go to a school, evaluate the individual there, then what we’ll also do is go to the kid’s home and we’ll ask to see the bedroom and we’ll do a very data-driven assessment. We’re trying to figure out, what are the triggers here? What are the risk factors? What’s really going on and how can we intervene?”

Beliz’s team will get tipped off that a student has made a violent drawing or social media update and then begin its process. He told the Times that the program has actually prevented violence “in more than a few cases.”

Part of the strategy includes keeping troubled kids integrated into the school system and community. A more common approach--expelling students who make threats--leads to angry kids sitting around with time on their hands to let their rage stew, and potentially make plans.

Will L.A.'s approach catch on? Similar programs already exist in Massachusetts and South Dakota.

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