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Secret Service urging schools to establish threat assessment teams

WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

The U.S. Secret Service issued a report Thursday releasing guidelines to help schools prevent deadly shootings. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the Secret Service is urging schools to set up 'threat assessment teams'.

“Threat assessment would be taking into consideration behaviors – prohibitive behaviors or concerning behaviors,” stated Lewis Robinson, a Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Secret Service Office in Buffalo.

The new guidelines are based on research from the Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center. In the Parkland, Florida school shooting that killed 17-people earlier this year, the 19-year old suspect had shown signs of mental illness.

Lewis points out a threat assessment team could work to vet out issues before violence would occur.

“Concerning behaviors, as it relates to threat assessments – some examples may be sudden or dramatic changes in someone’s mood or appearance or behavior. They may have withdrawn or become isolated. Teachers may also see a decline in a student’s school performance, maybe factors tied into that threat assessment – looking at holistic picture of what’s going on in that student’s life,” Lewis explained.

“We have conducted a threat assessment and have threat assessment teams at every school and one district-wide,” said Mark Laurrie, Niagara Falls City Schools Superintendent.   

Laurrie tells WBFO News his district already has threat assessment teams in place. 

Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
Outside Niagara Falls High School, Niagara Falls, NY.

“What are the signs, symptoms, changes and behaviors, appearance, eating habits, sleep habits, grades – drill down more into those signs and determine what we should be looking for,” Laurrie responded.

Under the guidelines, team members would be allowed to search a student’s desk and locker, look through their social media and interview teachers and classmates. They could also examine a student's life, searching for any potential trouble spots that could lead to violence.  

“Things we might see that lead you to that – those prohibitive behaviors – may be intimidation, threats, physical or verbal abuse, harassment, stalking – even sexual assault or carrying weapons in the school, bullying obviously is also another big one,” Special Agent Lewis remarked.

Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
Inside Niagara Falls High School.

So far, 150 Niagara Falls city school teachers have received Mental Health First Aid training. Thursday all Falls city school administers and Superintendent Laurrie completed the program and another 60-teachers will be trained this fall.

“If our eyes are wide-open and ears are open – that's not a perfect system, but we will be able to hear and pick up signs of that – nothing prepares us better than listening to other students and parents and following through completely on every sign, symptom and threat," Laurrie said.

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