Threat Assessment Practice
High profile acts of school and university violence combined with other traumatic events have understandably elevated the anxiety level of students, parents, teachers, support staff and community members. In the absence of clearly stated expectations and supporting process and procedures to assess high-risk and threat-making behaviours and shape the response, there is a strong likelihood of either over-reaction or under-reaction when these situations arise in our schools.
Our school district, in partnership with several key youth service providers in the community including Ministry of Children and Family Development, RCMP, VIHA, Youth Probation Services, Family Resource Association, Regional District of Nanaimo, City of Parksville, Associated Family & Community Support Services, and others is seeking to develop comprehensive policy and protocols that will help us to respond quickly, cooperatively and effectively to assess and respond to threat-making behaviours.
At Ballenas, our admin team, counsellors, and other key support staff have received formal training in the area of threat assessment. We require that any behaviours which are worrisome, high risk, or immediate threat (as per the attached chart) be reported immediately to the principal who will call a school-based team together to assess the situation. If warranted, a community threat assessment team will be called in. The key is that more than one person will be part of every threat assessment, and that appropriate data will be gathered to assess and plan for intervention.
High Risk Behaviours
- Pictures, stories, or journals with violent or disturbing content
- Vague threatening statements
- Pre-occupation with weapons, violence, or fire
- Unauthored threat – note or graffiti
- Possession of replica weapon
- Bomb threat plan
- Verbal or written threat to injure, kill or damage property
- Internet threats to kill or injure self or others
- Fire setting (minor)
- Violence to animals
- Possession of a weapon that poses a serious threat to others
- Plan for serious assault
- Homicidal or suicidal behaviours that threatens safety
- Fire setting (major)
Note: These lists are meant to be representative, not exhaustive
- Violence is the result of an evolutionary process – no one just snaps – signs of the evolution, even if it is cognitive are usually evident
- We need to begin every assessment starting from the hypothesis that this is a cry for help
- There is a strong link between trauma and violence – there is a strong connection between self-harm and harm to others – we can expect to see parallel process or the same behaviours being played-out in the school, the home and the community
- We must assess both the threat – is it clear, direct and plausible? And the threat-maker – does this situation indicate a change in the intensity, or frequency of behaviours for this person?
- We need to look at both individual pathology and interactive dynamics
- Schools must take the lead – The School Act and legal precedent dictate that collective safety trumps individual rights
- Threat assessment must supersede disciplinary action
- Threat assessment is connecting the dots (data) from a number of sources – we must ask all of the questions that need answering (no matter how uncomfortable they may be) in order to make an appropriate assessment for the safety of all involved
- Disciplinary or police action may ultimately be required
This information should be considered fair notice that violence, or threats of violence will not be tolerated at our school.
It should also follow that anyone from our school community that has reasonable grounds to believe that there is potential for high risk or violent behaviour should promptly report that information to the principal or his/her designate.