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Profiling School Violence


Profiling as a Method of Prevention of School Violence


The school, a place for learning is not safe anymore from violence and destruction as evidenced by recent news of students running amok and consequently killing fellow students and faculty as well (Sheley, McGee, & Wright, 1995). Between July 1, 1999 and June 30, 2000, in the United States, sixteen school-aged children were involved in 32 incidents of violent deaths that are associated with schools. Furthermore, according to the NCES, "in 2003, 5% of students ages 12-18 reported being victims of nonfatal crimes, 4% reported being victims of theft, and 1% reported being victims of violent incidents" (NCES Executive Summary). In the year 1999, a survey of high school students were accomplished nationwide with the following results: “7% of students (and 11% of male students) said they had carried a weapon to school in the last month; 8% of students said they had been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in the past year; 14% said that they had been involved in a physical fight on school property in the past year; and 5% said they had missed at least one day of school in the last month because they felt unsafe at school or when traveling to or from school” (NCES Executive Summary). Between the years 1999-2001, meanwhile, “20% of all public schools experienced one or more serious violent crimes such as rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault. 71% of public schools reported violent incidents and 46% reported thefts” (NCES Executive Summary). Moreover, according to NCES, there were 1.3 million crimes that were non-fatal, of which 473,000 are crimes of violence while 817,000 were incidents of theft against school educators and faculty (NCES Nonfatal teacher victimization at school).

Due to the fear that has taken a hold of the country related to school violence, there has been an increase for educators and people in the fields of psychology and law enforcement to assist the schools to be able to prevent the occurrence of incidents that are violent in nature at schools. Due to this fact, those with the responsibility to prevent school shootings have focused preventive resources primarily on increasing physical security such as installing cameras and metal detectors, hiring school security officers, developing tactical plans for responding once a shooting has occurred, and implementing a range of programs such as legal education and conflict resolution. A method that has been frequently discussed is the zero tolerance policy although it has met with several criticisms as being too punitive (Hyman & Perone, 1998). Other methods such as behavioral profiling and computer programs that are used to identify students at risk, have also elicited negative reactions from parents, students and policymakers alike which is further affirmed by the United States Secretary of Education. This is due to the fact that these methods can violate the rights and civil liberties of students. Furthermore, students are labeled as a consequence with negative connotations such as being dangerous, violent or other such names (Cooper, 2000).

Thesis Statement

  • Profiling is an effective method of prevention of School Violence.

There have been studies and research made in the past which found out that children are most likely to display and act out violent and destructive behavior when they themselves experienced at a certain point in their lives, rejection and psychological victimization. These violent behavior can be directed inwards or to themselves or more than likely, towards other people in their environment (Guerra, Huesmann, Tolan, Van Acker, & Eron, 1995). It is important therefore, to take note of “early warning signs” as it provides us with the initiative and the chance to check out our concerns and address the child's needs. These signs allow us to act responsibly by getting help for the child before problems escalate. The cases of Seung Hui Cho for the killings at Virginia Tech wherein he exhibits an angry façade and even harasses fellow students (Andrews 2007) and the case of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in the infamous Columbine killings wherein they wrote down violent sentiments (Meadows 2006) are just some examples of warning signals that should be looked into.

Percentage of public schools reporting at least one violent or serious violent incident, by school level: 1999-2000

It is also of primary importance, therefore, to prevent violence that occurs in schools through assessment of the risk factors of a certain student. This assessment has remained as a challenge to schools as they are dealt with both positive and negative implications as approaches towards assessment that are currently advocated include profiling.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Behavioral Science Unit developed the technique of crime scene profiling. This technique involves using information gathered from a crime scene in order to generate a set of hypotheses about the different characteristics of the person who would have been viewed as the most likely to commit the crime. This includes physical characteristics, demographic information, personality trait, and others. Nowadays, the criminal profiling technique has evolved to prospective profiling, wherein individuals who have more tendencies to become criminals or perpetrators in the future are identified. It is also used to assessa given individual who has caught an official's eye or attention for due to his troubling communication or behavior. Regular criminal profiling starts with the crime and working backwards in analysis whereas prospective profiling begins with one person who is suspected of violent or destructive behavior. The profiling then advances forward and aims to predict the likelihood of that person towards committing the crime. In this type of profiling method, the profile of the most likely person to commit a specific type of crime is generated from the characteristics and descriptions by previous offenders and perpetrators of the same crime. This prospective profile is then used as a prototype or template against which an individual who is suspected of becoming a perpetrator may be compared. As such, several organizations and individuals have created and developed prospective profiles of a school shooter. This includes the profile which was developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the school shooter as stated in Band & Harpold (1999) and the profile of a classroom avenger which was developed by McGee and DeBernardo (1999).

In a 2-year study of shootings that have occurred in the school setting, the Federal Bureau of Investigation compiled risk factors for these individuals. The study was completed in September 2000 which included questions that educators need to ask identified children who are troubled so that they would be able to assess the risk factors of that child towards committing a crime. The questions included are regarding the culture of the school and how is it affecting the child, does he or she have problems expressing anger, does he or she show an inordinate fascination with violent movies, books and music and has he talked or written about committing violent acts. Other traits and characteristics which are deemed important and should require further probing and analysis includes poor coping skills, access to weapons, signs of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, alienation, narcissism, inappropriate humor, and no limits to, or monitoring of, television and Internet use. In the same study, the FBI also depicts the different levels and types of threats such as direct threats which include clear instructions and descriptions, medium-level threats which indicate possible place and time and high-level threats which indicate practice with a weapon or surveillance of a victim.

As mentioned earlier, the use of prospective profiling as a means to point out and assess students' risks towards school violence has been met with negative reactions from various groups of individuals. Firstly, it has been said that prospective profiling is not sensitive enough to be able to determine the child who is at risk for committing or engaging in violent behavior at school as well as it is not sufficient as an evaluation tool for a child's likelihood of committing a crime. There are also a lot of risks associated with the use of prospective profiling due to the fact that it creates positive implications which are usually false. This is because school violence rarely occurs and those that have been identified as having the profile of a person likely to commit a crime will not, actually, commit or engage in acts of violence. Moreover, the use of prospective profiles would consequently exclude students who do not fit the profile, but who may in fact pose a risk of targeted violence

Criticism regarding this method focused on the potential for profiling to produce bias, particularly against students who differ from the majority in terms of appearance, race, sexual preference, etc. Results from a 2000 survey conducted by Time magazine and the Discovery Channel indicate that the majority of students polled (60%) disapprove of the use of profiling in schools (Morse, 2000). These concerns and fears have a basis on the potential that profiling may bring about such as unreasonable and excessive use against students who may not likely be violent.

Again, as mentioned earlier, one of the proponents who are against the use of behavioral profiling by schools and districts as a means to point out students who have the potential to become violent is U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley. According to Riley, in order to promote a peaceful school environment, the members of the school such as the teachers and administrators should try to reach out to their students. By facilitating a warm and caring school environment, students will feel more at ease and be this will also lead to a good cooperation between the students and the school administration and staff (Cooper 2000). As Riley further pointed out, the Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior at the University of Oregon conducted a research and according to the findings, schools who promote the values of compassion, enforce school discipline and exemplifies peaceful resolution of conflict can prevent as much as 80% of violent and destructive behavior.

Lois Flaherty, a psychologist who specializes in child and adolescent psychology, stated that there are still no conclusions whether profiling is an effective method or not. Being the spokesperson of the American Psychological Association, she further states that "I don't think we have any data to show whether it is effective or not. And the lack of research is just one of many issues here" (LaFee 2000).

Meanwhile, Terry Royster, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation is of the opinion that teachers are the best sources of information regarding students who have the tendency to become violent and a history of destructive behavior. This is due to the fact the teachers are regularly in contact with students and as such, they can observe their student's behavior. He further stated that "It's more about identifying warning signs and risk factors," he said. "The message we're trying to send is: Don't wait until you have a school shooter. Identify kids that could potentially be a problem at an early age and get them involved in counseling or other appropriate program" (LaFee 2000).

Another factor that complicates things is the fact that there is no warning sign or no single set of behavior that could be interpreted as a warning sign that professionals agree on. What there is, however, are several lists of behavioral warning signs that are created by various organizations, both in the field of education and mental health. We can say then, that in the process of comparing these lists of warning signs, there an overlap that can range from low to moderate (Fey et. al. 2000). Furthermore, Fey pointed out that “"school authorities could face legal action, as well as negative media attention, once a student is wrongfully identified as being at risk for committing violence" (Fey et. al. 2000). According to Hill Walker, the co-director of the Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior at the University of Oregon, the propensity of student's regarding the performance of violent and destructive behavior in the future could both bring about both false positives and negatives as he believes that "the potential of abuse is as great as the potential of violence"("Profiling Students May Cause More Harm").


Legislators, parents and educators alike believe that profiling is not the best method of prevention. Thus, these people are seeking out new avenues or other alternatives in order to keep the schools in America safe.However, a problem that has been encountered is accurately identifying the youths who are at-risk. And even if these at-risk youths are identified, this, sadly, would not be enough to prevent school violence: An important thing to consider is to place greater efforts towards stopping those students who often bully and provoke fellow students. Subsequently, there must be cooperation and collaboration with the administration and faculty so that ways and means towards the prevention of these events can be identified. One suggestion is through an integrated curriculum which teaches respect and, civility and tolerance towards other people. These may contain workshops and seminars on topics such as “anger management, active listening, and the sophisticated use of language, negotiation, and mediation.”

Engaging in incident profiling, as opposed to student profiling, can also be of help to various schools in order to be able to decrease the rate of school violence and other incidents that may have a violent outcome (LaFee 2000). With incident profiling, data that are referred by the office are reviewed and analyzed. These data contain various information which include the reasons for students being suspended and why they are sent to the principal's office, the most common locations where problems usually occur, be it in the cafeteria or just along the corridor and most importantly, whether these incidents tend to happen at a particular parts of the day. Nowadays, these data, although kept and maintained in their files by school administrators, it is a rare occasion that they are reviewed and analyzed in depth. These data should always be reviewed regularly as it often reveal the current trends and would show the necessary adjustment that school administrators need to make at their respective schools in order to prevent the occurrence of violent and destructive behavior.

According to Elias, focusing on a child's social and emotional needs are also of primary importance as it plays a major role in preventing violence. This should be given importance just like the importance that is given to academic learning. By helping student develop their social as well as emotional characteristics and skills, this would help in the reduction of violent and destructive behavior. In addition, the students' characteristics of being competent socially and emotionally will facilitate an environment which is one of mutual trust, cooperation and respect. Schools have also used programs that encourage students to squeal on their classmates in exchange for incentives such as cash or gift certificates. One school even offers up to $500 worth of cash for information. (Schools now teach squealing 2005)

School educators also believe that promoting involvement in communities such as social work and volunteerism after school hours would also contribute to the reduction of the school violence that is currently happening. Consequently, most schools have already formed a partnership with nearby communities in order to reduce school violence.

As can be gathered, there are serious implications that can be brought about by Profiling. It “can be justified neither by deferring to a climate of public pressure nor by employing it as an emergency response to heightened concerns by parents and public about school safety” (Fey 2000)

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