School Threats: A San Diego County Approach to Protocol and Threat Assessment.

Author:Lopez, Andrija
Position:Special Section on Bullying Prevention

FEBRUARY 14, 2 018 marked a defining moment in the San Diego County District Attorney's Office for threats of targeted violence on school grounds. In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy in Parkland, Florida, there was a distinct shift from preliminary attempts to address threats made by juvenile offenders to an imperative need as the number of threats of a mass shooting on school campuses surged. From November 2014-February 14, 2018 (thirty-nine months), law enforcement agencies submitted approximately thirty-two school threat cases. From February 15, 2018 (post-Parkland)- September 11, 2018 (seven months), the San Diego County District Attorney's Office Juvenile Branch received thirty-five school threat cases accounting for nearly 53 percent of all submitted school threat cases. As a new reality unfolded in our county with this spike in school threat cases, it forced us to re-examine our approach.

In the past, we worked from essentially one-dimensional spaces. On one end of the spectrum, we recognized the important intersection between incidents of bullying or perceived bullying and subsequent school attacks as noted in the 2004 findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. (1) Teams of trained deputy district attorneys presented at schools to students, parents, and staff to educate them about bullying and cyberbullying. At the other end of the spectrum, deputy district attorneys drafted legislation in 2015 (California Senate Bill 456) and 2016 (California Senate Bill 821) to amend the antiquated language of California Penal Code Section 422 Criminal Threats to accurately reflect how juveniles were currently using anonymous social media platforms to communicate a threat of violence to a school at large. Although well-intentioned, these siloed approaches did not provide an integrated blueprint for proactively protecting our schools.

In April of 2018, The San Diego County District Attorney's Office, in collaboration with local law enforcement agencies and the San Diego County Office of Education, formalized a School Threat Protocol which is a comprehensive approach to address threats of targeted violence on school grounds. The protocol is comprised of three distinct yet complementary pieces- the school response, the law enforcement response, and the prosecution response. District Attorney Summer Stephan created the foundation for this protocol in 2014...

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