Nebraska presses preventative measures for school safety

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s school security director wants districts to improve security by identifying and reporting potential attackers before they strike.

The Omaha World-Herald ( ) reports that Jolene Palmer is recommending a set of guidelines that call for school districts to use “behavioral threat assessments” standards to identify and report suspicion or concern.

The recommendations, developed by a committee that included Nebraska teachers and law enforcement officials, are not binding on schools. However, the Nebraska State Board of Education has authority to write them into rules.

Palmer said she will use the standards to assess the level of security in each of the state’s 1,130 public schools. She has an Aug. 31, 2017, deadline to conduct the assessment.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln psychology professor Mario Scalora, who specializes in behavioral threat assessment, said the move is a smart, cost-effective prevention strategy.

He said Lincoln Public Schools who have already are applied some assessment strategies have done a good job. Lawmakers in some states where shootings occurred, have embraced it, Scalora said. It’s common for security in banks and other public gathering places, he said.

“We have learned a ton over the last decade about how to detect and manage these situations. We are not in the dark ages of threat assessment. The field has evolved substantially,” he said.

But some education leaders, like state school board member Glen Flint, are concerned about the possibility for schools to misidentify potential threats.

“However, my concern is what about the person who hasn’t actually committed any criminal activity,” Flint said, “and they somehow get profiled as somebody that’s going to commit criminal activity.”

Scalora said there are important issues related to the boundaries between safety and privacy, but sometimes those get overblown.

“In many of these cases where there were active shooters, they were putting out their warning signs to people in public settings or in public situations that didn’t require government snooping,” he said. “There were bystanders who were aware of the problem but didn’t know who to go to.”

Officials from several Omaha metro area school districts said they already have processes to identify threats, but those processes are likely to become more formalized in the next few years.

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