In 2000, the U.S. Secret Services used its threat assessment model to examine the cases of 41 people who had committed attacks at schools over the previous 26 years. Although they found no specific “profile” of a school shooter, they did find some commonalities among the cases. In particular, most shooters did not just “snap” and begin impulsively shooting. Rather, they had planned their attacks, at least to some degree. More than three-fourths of shooters analyzed held some type of grievance related to the school or to students, and in almost all of the cases the individual had told someone about his or her complaint. The confidant was typically a peer–either a friend, a classmate, or a sibling. In only two cases were adults told.
Given that at least one other person was likely aware that something was going to happen in almost all cases of serious violence on school or campus grounds, many assert that anonymous tip lines are among the most important prevention tools for this type of violence. Many tip lines were established after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, for example. Such a vehicle is an easy way for administrators to learn about possible violent activity. At many schools, posters are placed around the building alerting students to what might be deemed suspicious behavior and providing them with a phone number they can call if they see or hear something worrisome.
Some states have established 24-hour tip lines that are operated by police. For instance, the Michigan School Violence hotline is a place where students can report specific threats of imminent harm. Students are told that they will remain anonymous, and are taught to differentiate between when it is appropriate to call the tip line and when more immediate police intervention is needed.
One difficulty is in overcoming the powerful “anti-snitch” culture that often prevails among adolescents. For many youth, it is simply unacceptable to tell adults anything about a peer. Officials hope that the promise of anonymity can assure students that no one will ever know who reported the tip.
Although it is difficult to determine precisely how effective they are, news reports occasionally describe situations that were averted due to tipsters. For instance, a Columbine-like attack was thwarted in December 2009 in Bridgewater, New Jersey, when a student informed school officials about suspicious behavior.
In a number of locations, people are being encouraged to message text their tips to law enforcement or appropriate officials. Baltimore inaugurated its text-message tip line in June 2008. Authorities in Douglas County, Colorado, thwarted a school attack after an anonymous text led them to a student’s “kill list.” At colleges, campus police are increasingly utilizing tips from text messages to keep order in dorms and at campus events.
- Lavoie, D. (2009, November 28). Text-a-Tip programs help police get info from anonymous tipsters in anti-snitching culture. Retrieved from http://politics.gaeatimes.com/2009/11/28/text-a-tip-programs-help-police-get-info-from-anonymous-tipsters-in-anti-snitching-culture-2969/
- School Violence Hotline. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.michigan.gov/safeschools/0,1607,7-181–68589–,00.html
- Teppo, G. (2007, April 19). Experts ponder patterns in school shootings. USA Today. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2007-04-18-school-shooters_N.htm