School Violence in Trinidad

Trinidad school Violence

News headlines portray an epidemic of school violence in Trinidad. As with American media, alarmist and frightening reporting can make it difficult to determine the real extent of the problem of school violence. Safe Havens has been asked to help develop practical solutions to address school violence in Trinidad.

BUntitled CUntitled DUntitledI have the honor to present at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad this March.  The conference is being held in response to incidents of school violence in the small Caribbean nation.  In newspaper covers and television news stories provided by my client for background on the topic, I noted repeated references to an “epidemic” of school violence and headlines regarding gang activity in schools.  While the news stories detail recent school homicides, the focus of the reporting appears to center on a large number of very serious fights among groups of students as well as increasing gang activity in schools.  A number of these incidents involve groups of students who gang up and beat individual students severely.  There has been at least one similar type of attack on a school teacher.  Viral videos of these types of attacks have become increasingly more graphic, popular and apparently more frequent.

High Homicide Rate affects School Violence

With a per capita murder rate of 28.3 per hundred residents, Trinidad has been experiencing a stout homicide rate in recent years.   Criminal gangs have often had no difficulty in obtaining semi-automatic and even fully automatic weapons.  Special police units equipped with heavy body armor and sub-machine guns patrol high crime areas and have had numerous gunfights with gang members.  It should not be surprising that school violence would be an issue in schools serving these communities. For contrast, the U.S. homicide rate typically runs between three and four victims  per hundred thousand.

Contrast with schools in the U.S.

Most of the topics of interest to attendees parallel issues with school violence in the United States.  I will be addressing areas such as preventing school weapons assaults, effective school resource officer programs, student threat evaluation, techniques to prevent fights in schools, bullying prevention, student supervision practices, and effective emergency preparedness measures for school violence.  I have found past engagements in other countries to be an excellent learning opportunity.  Our analysts have learned valuable lessons working in Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Rwanda, Bolivia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, France, Switzerland, Vietnam, the U.K., and other countries.  I am sure this experience will be no exception.

Travel, learn and share

I look forward to my visit to Trinidad and will post another blog to share what I learn during the trip.   When I was originally invited to present for the conference, I had to decline due to a previously scheduled trip to Argentina the same week.  I was very disappointed that I would not be able to present because my schedule was in conflict.  The conference organizers were willing to move the conference date so I could present.  I am grateful for their efforts to accommodate my schedule and will do my best to make their efforts worthwhile.  I also look forward to the challenges of trying to come up with success strategies to help make schools in Trinidad safer.  Every time we have the opportunity to work in another region of the world, we learn and gain a new perspective.  I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity to learn and to share a different perspective on school violence.

Tackling Mission Creep in School Operations

School Tragedy

On Tuesday, January 26, Susan Jordan was struck and killed by a school bus.  The Principal of Amy Beverland Elementary School in Lawrence, IN, was supervising her students as they boarded buses at the end of the school day.  The school bus reportedly jumped a curb, and Mrs. Jordan was pushing students out of the way when she was struck and killed.  Two students were taken to the hospital with serious, but not life-threatening injuries.

This information is still developing, so the the purpose here is NOT to be critical of anyone.  After a traumatic incident such as this, it is very easy to act on our emotions.  Terror Management Theory tells us that feelings of vulnerability are normal, as are our desires to change things so that we can avoid a similar trauma.  Making this change should be done in a thoughtful, systematic manner.  As always in emergency management, the first step is identifying risk.

In the report, Relative Risks of Death in K-12 Schools, the number one cause of school-related fatalities was found to be school transportation-related incidents.  Buses weigh around 33,000 pounds each, and drop off and pick up times has a large number of students and staff near these behemoths.  A slight lapse of supervision or care can have tragic consequences.

Mission Creep in School Operations

This chart compares various causes of fatalities. Note that school transportation-related fatalities make 40% of the total.

Schools have developed procedures for getting kids off of, and onto their buses.  These procedures were made for a reason, hopefully to meet a goal of student and staff safety.  Therefore we do not want to change procedures related to school transportation based on the emotions of the moment.  Experience tells us that such decisions often have unintended consequences.  We need to make our decision-making deliberate and contemplative.  That leaves you with the un-answered question, “What can I do?”  One thing you can do is look for ‘mission creep’.

Mission Creep

‘Mission creep’ is, “The gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization.” Each school has in place various procedures, each with their own goals.  As time goes on, things happen which may alter those goals, or cause goals to be forgotten altogether.  This is ‘mission creep’ in action.  For example, a dismissal procedure may call for parents to park in a certain area to get their children, to keep them away from the buses. Over time, a parent may request to get closer for some particular reason, then another, then another, and before you know it, cars are interfering with bus traffic.

So what can you do to combat mission creep?
1) Assess what you are currently doing.
2) Gather information.  Without having all the information, it is hard to change what your doing, and know that you are doing the right thing.
3) Re-identify your goals, then assess whether you are meeting them or not.  Has mission creep occurred?  Take care of what you should be doing, then you can address whether you should be adding a level of complexity to the current procedure.
4) Identify whether what happened was a system failure, or a failure of application.
a) A systems failure, where what you are doing is not meeting your stated goals, can be fixed by amending, or replacing
the procedure.
b) Application failure requires training and practice to correct, but does not necessarily require a change in procedure.

Has mission creep occurred in your procedures?  If what you are doing is not meeting your original goals, plan on how to change them.  Do so in a deliberate, thoughtful way.  Reassure yourself, your staff, your parents and your students that you are doing the right thing.  That can help allay their fears.

Be wary of ‘knee-jerk’ responses leading to changes that have not been properly vetted.  There is much at stake.



Arapahoe High School Shooting post-incident review: Additional Thoughts

Presentation of Findings from the Post-Incident Review of the Arapaho High School Shooting

Arapahoe High School

As outlined in a blog last week and reported in Campus Safety Magazine, Safe Havens International conducted a pro bono independent review of the active shooter incident that occurred at Arapaho High School in Littleton, Colorado in 2013.  This review was conducted as part of an arbitration process agreed to by the Littleton Public School District (LPS) and the parents of Arapaho High School student Claire Davis, who was killed in the attack.  I presented the findings of our team to the Littleton Public School Board last Thursday.  Dr. Linda Kanan and Dr. John Nicolletti also presented to the board on a separate report they prepared with the assistance of Dr. Sara Gorrido and Mariya Dvoskina. This meeting was followed by a press conference.

The following day, we presented our findings to a subcommittee of the Colorado Legislature at the State Capitol.  Two experts who conducted a review for the Davis family also presented their findings to the committee.  The well-attended hearing lasted four and a half hours. A major focus of the post-incident reviews were on student threat evaluation and why no students used state’s Safe2Tell anonymous reporting line even though the school participated in this program at the time of the shooting.

Looking Comprehensively at School Shootings

During this process, Dr. Kanan has mentioned to me that there is a dangerous tendency for people to try to boil school shootings down into overly simplified concepts.  I agree with her concerns.  One important caution in the Safe Havens report involved the need to look comprehensively at the prevention of active shooter incidents.  While these two topical areas are clearly important and were among a number of important aspects of this particular case, we cautioned that a number of active shooter events at K12 schools did not involved currently enrolled students.  For example, two of the nation’s three most deadly K12 school shootings to date involved attackers who were not currently enrolled students at the time of their attacks.  As these three attacks account for roughly 70% of all homicides by active shooter deaths in K12 schools in the United States from 1998 to 2013, it is important to remember that prevention strategies must address outside aggressors as well as student attackers.  An over-reliance on only a few prevention strategies can leave gaps that are easily exploited by future attackers.

Lessons Learned

The unique arbitration process will help educators, mental health professionals, school safety practitioners and legislators better understand how this tragedy occurred.  There were some points of agreement between the three evaluation teams as well as some very significant differences. When carefully read, the reports can also shed light into ways to enhance our ability to try to prevent future school attacks.   We hope that those how are concerned about school violence prevention will learn from this process.

Click here to download our Post-Incident Review of the
Arapahoe High School Shooting