New York State is responding to rising concerns about school violence
with informative tools designed to help school personnel manage the problem. This booklet
is not intended to be used as a stand-alone training document, but rather as a starting
point to begin thinking about your own school district's needs and the measures that are
currently employed to prevent violence and to promote a safe and positive learning
State of New York, George E. Pataki, Governor
Office of Mental Health, James L. Stone, MSW, CSW, Commissioner
This booklet is the result of a collaborative partnership between: the
Council on Children and Families, the New York State Division of Criminal Justice
Services, the New York State Education Department, the New York State Office of Alcoholism
and Substance Abuse Services, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services,
the New York State Office of Mental Health and the New York State Police.
To download this booklet in Adobe Acrobat PDF format click here
Assessing Risk and Red Flags
While most threats that youths make are not acted upon, all threats whether written,
verbal, or physical must be addressed and responded to.
What threats from youths should make you worry?
- Threats or warnings about killing or hurting themselves or others
- Threats to do something dangerous or potentially harmful
- Possession of or access to a weapon
When a youth makes a threat, you must assess:
- How serious is the threat that was made?
- What do you know about the youth who made the threat?
- Has the youth specified a plan to carry out the threat?
- Does the youth have the means to carry out the threat?
To help assess questions one and two, consider the "red flags" that research
has found to be most associated with violence in youth.
- Past violent or aggressive behavior
- Bringing a weapon to school
- A pattern of violent threats when angry
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Past destruction of property or criminal behavior
- Past cruelty to animals
- Past fire-setting
- History of family conflict or problems
- Gang involvement
Evaluation of any threat must be done in the context of the individual youth's past
behavior, personality, and current stressors. To help assess this, evaluate whether the
threat or plan is realistic or could be accomplished; a 6-year-old threatening to blow up
the school with an atomic bomb will probably present less risk than a 14-year-old
threatening to kill a teacher with a gun. Access to guns or other weapons raises a threat
to a potentially lethal level. Determining if there are guns present in a youth's home or
whether the youth is part of a gang that may have access to weapons will help to assess
the risk of violence.
There are known risk factors associated with potential violence toward self and others.
It is important to keep in mind that none of these risk factors alone is sufficient for
predicting violence, and it may be inappropriate or potentially harmful to use them simply
as a checklist for an individual youth. This list should not be used to stereotype or
stigmatize individual youths because they appear to fit a set of risk factors.
School risk factors
- Previously brought a weapon at school
- Aggressiveness in grades K-3, social isolation or hyperactivity
- Truancy, getting into fights or misbehaving in class
- Serious disciplinary problems
- Past suspension or expulsion for aggressive behavior
- Anger or frustration present in school essays or artwork
- Academic failure beginning in grade school (experience of failure escalates risk rather
Personal risk factors
- History of tantrums or uncontrollable angry outbursts
- Past violent behavior
- Characteristically resorts to name calling or cursing
- Bullying of peers or younger youths
- History of being bullied
- A pattern of violent threats when angry
- Cruelty to animals
- Use and abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Past suicide attempts
- Often depressed or has significant mood swings
- Tends to blame others for personal problems
- Recent experience of humiliation, loss, or rejection
- Preoccupation with weapons or explosives
- Poor peer relations, is on the fringe of peer group
- with few or no close friends
- Involvement with cults or gangs
- Unstructured time
Community and environmental risk factors
- Extreme economic deprivation
- Low neighborhood attachment and community
- Access to guns or other weapons
- Past destruction of property or vandalism
- Few organized activities in community for youths
Family risk factors
- History of family violence
- History of weapon possession or use by family
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs by family members
- Family conflict
- Youth has history of being abused
- Severe or inconsistent punishment
- Absence of clear expectations or standards for behavior
- Lack of supervision or support from parents or caring adults
What if a youth makes a threat that puts him or her or others in imminent danger? For
instance a weapon may be present.
Treat this as an emergency. To diffuse the situation
- Alert the administration to activate your school's
Incident Management Plan to contact:
- School psychologist or counselor.
- Local mental health agencies or resources.
- Parents or guardians.
- Keep your distance. Try to create barriers between you
and the person or weapon.
- Avoid aggressive body movements.
- Ask open-ended questions to keep the youth talking.
- Realize that you are not in control of the situation.
Avoid projecting authority.
- Do not negotiate with the youth. You have nothing to
negotiate with. Do not lie about helping.
- Time is your friend. Try to diffuse the situation until
- or a school psychologist arrives.
You should familiarize yourself with your school's
Incident Management Plan, asking four questions:
- What exactly is the "plan"?
- Is there a crisis team in place?
- What is my role in the plan likely to be?
- What happens after an incident?
Knowing the answer to each question before a crisis happens will better prepare you and
your school to act effectively. For more information or training on handling violent or
potentially violent situations, contact the New York State Police or your local law
enforcement agencies and ask about programs for schools in your community.
What if a youth who has exhibited some of the red flags makes a threat that may be
carried out but does not pose imminent danger?
- Do not dismiss the threat as idle talk.
- Immediately talk with the youth.
- If the youth refuses to talk, is argumentative, responds defensively, or continues to
express violent or dangerous thoughts or plans, arrange for an immediate evaluation by a
qualified mental health professional.
- Do not leave the youth alone.
- School administration.
- School psychologist or counselor.
- Parents or guardians.
- Local mental health agency.
- Police, if warranted.
What if I still have concerns about a youth?
Work with your school's administration to obtain an examination by a qualified mental
health professional whenever you are concerned about threats a youth makes. While there is
no foolproof method of identifying potentially dangerous youths, it is best to bring your
concerns to the attention of people who can professionally assess the risk for violence.
Violence Prevention Strategies
These strategies may be helpful in mediating the risk factors
Encourage "protective" factors
Protective factors that can counter the negative impact of some risk factors associated
with violence include:
- Individual characteristics
- High IQ, resilient temperament, good natured, enjoys social interactions. With similar
risk factors girls are less likely than boys to become violent.
- Strong, positive relationships with family members, teachers or other adults can make a
youth feel that someone takes an interest in them and cares about them.
- Adults with healthy beliefs and clear standards
- Adults can act as role models and demonstrate to youths that people can succeed in life
without being violent.
Interventions at the individual level
- Reach out to students and take a positive interest in them.
- Provide tutors or mentors from within the school or from local businesses, service
organizations, colleges, or churches.
- Provide part time employment or volunteer work.
- Encourage students to get involved in school or community sponsored youth recreation
activities or anti-violence youth collaborations.
Safe school environments require an atmosphere that demonstrates respect for,
communication with, and responsibility to one another on a day-to-day basis. A positive
school environment provides youths with tools to handle conflict in nonviolent ways. Here
are some ways to facilitate such an environment:
- Anger management and counseling programs.
- Mediation and conflict resolution programs.
- A confidential reporting system for youth to alert school personnel with concerns
regarding peers. Stress the differences between "ratting" and being safe.
- Alcohol and drug interventions for youths and their families.
- Links with youth serving and law enforcement agencies
- in the community.
- Extended school hours for organized recreation activities, childcare, etc.
- Classes for parenting skills.
- In-school crisis centers, staffed by professionals to work with violent youths and to be
used as a "cooling off" space.
- A crisis team consisting of teachers, administration,
- and other school personnel.
- Training on managing violent youths for all school personnel.
- Monitoring by staff and guards.
- Parents as monitors or teachers aids.
- Discipline and dress codes.
- Zero tolerance policies
- A Post Incident Response Plan as part of the Incident Management Plan.
- Mental Health staff available to provide consultation and counseling to students, school
personnel, and the community immediately after a crisis and on its anniversary dates.
- Self-help networks for students and their families who have survived a crisis.
Discipline codes should be reviewed periodically and comply with federal, state, and
local education laws. Be sure consequences are commensurate with the violation, for
example, employ a "graduated sanctions" approach to discipline. Detention,
suspension, and expulsion policies should be reviewed and clearly defined so that the
discipline code can be enforced consistently, firmly, and fairly.
Many resources are available in the community to help schools prevent, prepare for, and
manage school emergencies. In addition
to your local law enforcement and mental health agencies, they can include youth
bureaus, private foundations and not-for-profit agencies. Many offer speakers or training
to school personnel and youths. Local businesses or churches may provide volunteering or
employment opportunities, mentoring or structured recreational activities for youths.
For more information about violence prevention and safe school planning you may contact
- New York State Police 518-457-2180
- Programs for schools andcommunities
- New York State Education Department 518-486-6090
- Comprehensive Health and Pupil Services Team
- Upstate Center for School Safety 914-255-8989
- Downstate United Way 212-973-3894
- New York City Technical Assistance Center
- New York State Office of Mental Health 518-474-8394
- School-based program and county mental health services
- New York State Office of Children & Family Services Public Information:
- Aggression Replacement Training (ART)
- Getting Kid Smart
- Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services 800-522-5353
- School and community-based prevention,intervention and treatment programs
- New York State Department of Health
- Public Information 518-474-5422
- New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services 518-457-8462
- Office of Funding & Program Assistance
- Council on Children and Families 518-474-6294
- Resource guides from child serving state agencies
United States Department of Education
- Safe and Drug Free Schools
- Online: www.ed.gov/offices/oese/sdfs
Safe Schools and Violence Prevention Office
- Safe Schools: A Planning Guide for Action
Safe Schools, Safe Students (manual)
- A guide to Violence Prevention Strategies
- Online: www.drugstrategies.org
Center for Safe Schools
- Toolkit for School Safety Planning
- Online: www.center-school.org
Crisis Prevention Institute, Inc.
- Non Violent Crisis Intervention Training Programs
- Online: www.crisisprevention.com
Youth Crime Watch America
- Peer programs to reduce crime and drugs in schools
- Online: www.ycwa.org
- Online: www.pta.org
National School Safety Center
- Online: www.nssc1.org
National Institute for Dispute Resolution and National Association for Mediation in
- Online: www.crenet.org
National Crime Prevention Council
- Online: www.ncpc.org
American Association of School Administrators
- Online: www.aasa.org
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
- Online: www.bbbsa.org
Boys and Girls Clubs of America
- Online: www.bgca.org
Center for the Prevention of School Violence
- Online: www2.ncsu.edu/ncsu/cep/PreViolence
Note: Online addresses are case sensitive
Managing situations, steps
for threat assessment and resolution
For additional copies, please call the New York State Office of Mental Health, Bureau
of Children and Families at (518) 474-8394