Parkland-Related Probes Could Stretch for Years

The shooter in Parkland already faces a trial seeking the death penalty, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants a new grand jury to probe “the crimes and wrongs that precipitated the…school shooting.”

A year after the Parkland, Fl., high school attack, what happened before and after it have become the focus of multiple inquiries, including an ongoing criminal case and statewide investigations, reports the Washington Post. The web of examinations, which include a death penalty case against the shooter and probes looking at the actions of law enforcement and school officials, is a broad response to a tragedy marked by repeated missteps. One investigation already faulted law enforcement officers and school officials, while another still is looking at the police response. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for a new probe to be carried out by a grand jury looking at Parkland as well as broader school-security issues.

The inquiries may play out for years. Nikolas Cruz, the ex-student who confessed to the attack, was indicted on 34 murder counts. The case represents something unusual for an attack on the scale of Parkland: a trial for a suspect charged in a mass shooting, proceedings that could provide an extended, emotional look at the Valentine’s Day carnage. In a comparable case, a gunman who killed a dozen people in an Aurora, Co., movie theater in 2012 ultimately faced trial. Three years passed between the massacre and the jury’s decision to find him guilty on all counts. In Florida, public defender Howard Finkelstein, who represents Cruz, said it would be wrong for the state to execute Cruz after authorities missed so many warning signs about him before the shooting. In seeking a new grand jury probe, DeSantis said he had been told “there is a need to examine the crimes and wrongs that precipitated the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting and that even now result in unsafe schools across the state.”


Does a ‘Code of Silence’ Among Students, Parents Abet School Shootings?

School shootings can be averted when parents, school authorities and students themselves take seriously the signals indicating potential violence from troubled youths, and communicate their concerns as quickly as possible, according to the Police Foundation.

School shootings can be averted when parents, school authorities and students themselves take seriously the signals indicating potential violence from troubled youths, and communicate their concerns as quickly as possible, according to the Police Foundation.

In two companion studies of 51 completed and 51 averted incidents of school violence that have occurred in the U.S. since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, researchers found that the reluctance to break the “code of silence,” and tell responsible authorities about fellow students who openly make threats or display signs of mental instability is a critical factor determining whether a tragedy occurs or is prevented.

“Communication is the key to preventing mass attacks,” concluded Peter Langman and Frank Straub, the co-authors of one of the papers. “To improve communication, communities need to be trained to recognize warning signs and to know what to do when they encounter them.”

Langman, a psychologist and expert on school safety, and Straub, a former Spokane police chief who is now director of the Police Foundation’s Center for Mass Violence Response Studies, found that, although there was no typical school shooting, there were common factors connecting many of them.

The incidents studied—which were not intended to be a comprehensive list of all the school shootings in the US since 1999—were mostly committed by males under the age of 27, most of whom already had a “history” of mental instability.

“A majority of perpetrators who completed attacks had a history of being treated for one or more mental health issues or development disorders,” said the paper.

Often there were clear signals of homicidal intent long in advance that parents or students failed to take seriously.

In one example, a perpetrator was so obsessed with the Columbine shooting that he convinced his mother to drive him across country so he could see the site where the shooting happened.

“Despite knowing that he was suicidal and obsessed with Columbine and owned firearms, she apparently did not recognize these factors as warning signs for violence,” the authors wrote.

In several cases, students or parents ignored comments about proposed violence—especially when they were made in a joking manner, or failed to recognize signs of mental illness—underlining the need for a changed national approach to mental health, the paper said.

Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness

“Increased knowledge about mental health and the signs of psychological distress could have resulted in better intervention by parents, teachers, and others,” said the authors. “In addition, the stigma regarding mental health treatment has been a barrier that has kept people from getting help.

“Efforts to destigmatize mental health treatment should be a national priority, along with increasing available services and making sure they are accessible and affordable to all who need them.”

The second paper, by Jeff Daniels, attempted to identify the factors in the 51 “averted” incidents that prevented potential tragedies from occurring.

Daniels focused on two contrasting cases. In the first, a 17-year-old boy, his brother, and friends, calling themselves the “Trench Coat Mafia” in imitation of a group of students at Columbine, plotted to blow up their school and shoot any surviving teachers and students as they fled. But one of the conspirators disclosed the plot to a teacher, who then passed the information along to a school resource officer, who notified the local police. As a result of the investigation, five youths were arrested.

In the second case, a bright 15-year-old boy from a broken home who had begun to do poorly in his studies, talked repeatedly with friends about “pulling a Columbine” and bringing a gun to school and kill people. His friends largely dismissed it as a joke. When he actually announced he was going to “bring a bunch of guns” to school the next day, some of his friends were concerned enough to pat him down for a gun.

However, they failed to search his backpack, which contained the gun. He entered the school and shot 15 people.

“The primary difference between the two case examples is that in the averted shooting, multiple people reported their concerns, but in the completed shooting, no one who was concerned about a possible attack contacted either the school or local law enforcement,” Daniels said.

The reluctance to tell authorities or others their fears is a result of the “code of silence” that prevails among many young people who fear being called snitchers, the paper said.

According to the paper, school authorities can go a long way towards puncturing students’ concerns by helping them make “a distinction between ‘snitching’ (which is reporting to get somebody in trouble) and reporting a concern (which is intended to help others).”

The Police Foundation studies were part of an Averted School Violence project that began in 2015 and was funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) at the Department of Justice and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The project selected an equal number of averted and completed incidents to establish a database from which it could draw conclusions and recommendations for law enforcement, community groups, parents and educators.

Both papers drew a number of other lessons from their study related to school security, first responders and strengthened community partnerships.

‘Punishment is Not Prevention’

One lesson was that expulsion of students who exhibit troublesome behavior was not likely to head off a shooting incident, noting that in several cases students who were suspended returned later to the school with a gun and committed murder.

“Punishment is not prevention,” the Langman-Straub paper said. “The lesson here is that when students are suspended and prohibited from being on school property and this is not communicated to school personnel, the students can return to the school, enter, and commit acts of violence.”

Other recommendations for school authorities, parents and law enforcement have frequently been made by other experts. Both papers notably stayed away from hot- button issues raised by advocates on different sides of the debate about preventing mass shootings in schools, such as stricter gun control or arming teachers.

The recommendations included:

  • Ensure that guns are stored and locked safely in the home;
  • Make an effort to secure the school grounds, even though metal detectors were shown rto provide little detection;
  • Develop effective first-response plans to hand potential school emergencies;
  • Maintain trusting relationships with students to detect potential signs of distress and physical aggression, and educate students themselves about warning signs;
  • Use trained security or school resource officers as a deterrent;
  • Parents should not hesitate to check diaries, papers or social media used by young people who have displayed problematic behavior.

But the overall conclusion of both papers is that early and transparent communication among all the players who are likely to be involved in a school shooting incident is a primary factor in keeping schools safe.

“Safety is a community concern,” said the Langman-Straub paper. “When more people take action to maintain safety, the more likely a community is to prevent an act of violence.”

Additional Reading: Stopping School Shootings: Is Colorado’s Safe2Tell Hotline a Solution?

See also: Today’s TCR newsbrief: ‘Silent Panic Alarms to be Installed in NJ Schools.”

Both papers are available for download. The Langman-Straub paper is accessible here.  The Daniels paper can be accessed here.


Silent Panic Alarms To Be Required At NJ Schools

New Jersey’s 2,500 public schools will soon be required to have silent panic alarms used to help protect students during emergencies like an active shooter. It will cost between $2.5 million and $12.5 million to install the alarms, according to the non-partisan state Office of Legislative Services.

New Jersey’s 2,500 public schools will soon be required to have silent panic alarms used to help protect students during emergencies like an active shooter, reports. Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law legislation dubbed “Alyssa’s Law,” named after Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old former Woodcliff Lake resident who was among the 17 killed in the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl.

State Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, the main sponsor of the measure, said the law “can increase the chances of diffusing a bad situation without further harm to students and staff.” State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, another sponsor, said New Jersey will be “propelled into the forefront of states which are harnessing the power of technology to protect our schools from the type of heart-wrenching tragedies we’ve seen far too many times in the news.” It will cost between $2.5 million and $12.5 million to install the alarms, according to the non-partisan state Office of Legislative Services.


Is Florida Considering ‘Paradigm Shift’ in Justice Strategy?

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been in office less than a month, but some of his appointments suggest a surprising willingness to consider major changes in the state’s justice system.

The first two weeks in office for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have been marked by one prevailing sentiment: surprise.

As a Republican congressman from north Florida, DeSantis was relatively unknown statewide until, as part of his campaign for governor, he unleashed a jaw-dropping pro-Trump video in which he read “Trump: The Art of the Deal“ to his baby, and built a wall out of toy bricks with his toddler.

On the campaign trail, he stood behind police and supported mandatory minimums.

Many Floridians seemed justified in anticipating the same hard-right, pro-business-at-all-costs style of governing that had been established by DeSantis’ predecessor, Rick Scott. Instead, DeSantis announced moves in the week following his Jan. 8 inauguration  that even avowed leftists could get behind, like committing $2.5 billion to environmental cleanup and nominating a Cuban-American woman to the state supreme court.

But his approach to justice was especially noteworthy.

He and his cabinet posthumously pardoned the Groveland Four, a group of African-Americans who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949.

See also: “The Groveland Four: Racism, Miscarriage of Justice and the Press”

Could that portend a more reform-minded attitude to criminal justice in a state that has often lagged behind in issues like corrections and policing?

Florida is facing a host of contentious issues. Mandatory minimum sentences in the state require prisoners to serve 85 percent of their sentences, and the use of direct file, wherein prosecutors decide to charge juveniles in adult courts.

School safety is particularly worrisome following the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, and the state is in the process of rolling out a medical marijuana system.

New Leaders at Juvenile Justice, Corrections

DeSantis’ appointees to lead the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Corrections represent an intriguing cross-section of both conservatives and reformists.

Simone Marstiller, the new leader of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice, rose to prominence in 2003, when she was tapped by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to serve as his deputy chief of staff. She had roles leading the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Florida Elections Commission, and was a judge on the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee for six years.

Simone Marstiller, florida’s new juvenile justice chief. Photo via Twitter

She left the bench and was in private practice (and had been appointed to serve through 2020 on the Judicial Management Council that advises the state Supreme Court) when she was tapped by the governor.

Marstiller (who declined an interview request) describes herself on Twitter as “conservative, Christian.” In a January 2018 op-ed that ran in the Miami Herald, she called for a “paradigm shift” in criminal justice and a focus on rehabilitation instead of incarceration. She wrote that as a judge, she’d seen countless first-time offenders who had been convicted of low-level drug crimes and received unreasonably long prison sentences.

She called for a “judicial safety valve” that would let judges use discretion to depart from mandatory minimums in sentencing.

Deborrah Brodsky, director of the Project on Accountable Justice (PAJ), a think tank at Florida State University, said Marstiller was just about to become chair of PAJ’s executive committee when she got the DJJ job.

Brodsky praised Marstiller for being “very analytical (and) rational,” adding she has “incredible management skills.”

“She’s a truth teller. A straight shooter. The kind of friend who will tell you, ‘You know what, emperor? You aren’t wearing any clothes,’” said Brodsky.

Jeb Bush tweeted that Marstiller was “Another fantastic appointment by Governor-elect @RonDeSantisFL! Simone will bring strong leadership to @fladjj and will continue her record of serving our state with integrity.”

Then there’s DeSantis’ pick to run Florida’s Department of Corrections: Mark Inch, a retired U.S. Army major general who studied biblical archaeology at Wheaton College and went on to command troops in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump tapped him to run the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but Inch resigned abruptly in May after eight months on the job. (Reports suggested friction with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.)

Inch (who was also not available to comment) advocated for a balance between punishment and restoration while supporting the federal First Step Act, which lets judges depart from mandatory minimums and other reforms, in a December op-ed on the conservative site the Daily Caller.

Mark Inch

Mark Inch, new head of Florida Corrections

“Retribution and incapacitation is just, and rehabilitation and restoration is an expression of mercy,” Inch wrote. “I call on those who focus on the first, at the exclusion of the second, to search your heart for mercy.

“I call on those that focus on the second, to remember the cost of crime to society and victims, and temper your advocacy in light of these facts.”

To longtime state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg who chairs the criminal justice appropriations committee, the hiring of Inch signaled that Florida might finally make strides improving its corrections system.

For years, problems have plagued the system: inmate deaths, abusive guards, low pay and the constant struggle for funding.

“He’s somebody who has spent his life trying to make these types of systems better,” Brandes told the Jacksonville Times-Union. “I don’t think he was brought in to maintain the status quo.”

R.J. Larizza, state attorney for Florida’s 7th Judicial Circuit and head of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said some of the things the new administration should prioritize are logistical — like securing funding and figuring out how to function in a digital age.

“There are 20 circuits — they can all have different software,” he said. “All of these different agencies have to be able to communicate, to share and pull all that data” — a task made challenging by new technology, especially body cams.

Some laws were well-intentioned — like the federal rule restricting release of medical information, laws requiring redactions in public records and a new Florida data transparency law — but make compliance complicated.

“What good is a data transparency bill if the information isn’t accurate? It could be very dangerous if data is pulled and it’s inaccurate or incomplete,” Larizza said.

Staff Choices Crucial

Gus Barreiro, a Republican former state legislator and current public policy and community engagement liaison for The Children’s Trust, suggests the administration’s first priority should be making sure they have good personnel in key positions.

“I think most secretaries come in with the great idea of making changes,” he said, “… but two layers down are people who have been here 30 years. the ‘Be Here’ club. They say, “˜I’ve been here before this administration, I’ll be here during this administration, and I’ll be here after this administration.’”

Between Election Day in November and Inauguration Day in January, DeSantis invited 45 people with expertise in criminal justice to join a group called the Transition Advisory Committee on Public Safety, which has been brainstorming and will issue recommendations.

Grady Judge

Grady Judge, courtesy Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd sits on that committee. He said both reformists and hard-liners in the group were close to agreement on certain reforms, such as increasing the threshold for felony grand theft (currently $300 or more) or adjusting the instances where mandatory direct file would apply.

“We definitely agree as a group that there should be some reform as far as prisoner reentry, preparing inmates better for work and reentry into society,” Judd said. “Specialty courts are another one — mental health courts, drug courts, veterans courts — those could expand and increase.”

But funding must be found, he said. “You need more judges, more prosecutors, staff to be there physically in those courts.”

A “safety valve” that would give judges some ability to depart from minimum mandatory sentences is being debated, Judd said.

But he reminded his peers that, despite current sentiment leaning toward reform, the state had gotten tough on crime in the 1990s under a Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles, after a wave of tourists shootings at highway rest stops.

His emphasis, he said, was on public safety.

Law Enforcement Reacts

Judd will have a receptive audience among the state’s law enforcement leaders.

In Columbia County, just west of Jacksonville, Sheriff Mark Hunter, who also serves as president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said he was “wary” of some of the reforms pushed by hardline advocates.

Take for instance the move to arm teachers in Florida schools.

“I’d want a law enforcement officer or military person with a warrior mentality,” he said. How would a teacher react if one of his or her students opened fire? Teachers know the child, and they [might] have to decide whether to take that child out. It’s a mental struggle.

“Whereas with law enforcement, we train how to deal with aggressive behavior and use deadly force.”

Now that medical marijuana has been legalized, Hunter expects recreational marijuana won’t be far behind. Looking at states that have legalized recreational pot, he said, “If they’ll be honest about it, the experimental age has dropped, into elementary schools. That could present a whole new slate of problems.

Judd said of DeSantis, “I truly believe he’s got the best interests of Florida as his agenda, and I believe all of us just want people to behave and be orderly in society. We don’t want to put [everyone] in prison—just those who need to be incarcerated, who would otherwise be out terrorizing the community.”

Whatever comes, Hunter said, “I’ll enforce the laws on the books. We’ll adjust.”

The Crime Report is pleased to co-publish this article with the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Parkland Shooting One Year Later: A Lesson for the Media

As the first anniversary of the Parkland, Fl.,school massacre nears, two researchers offer some suggestions for how media coverage of mass shooting can avoid the “copycat” phenomenon.

On Feb. 14, the nation will mark the first anniversary of the high school shooting in Parkland, Fl., that claimed the precious lives of 17 students and teachers. In the year following that massacre, there were at least 53 additional incidents of gunfire on high school and college campuses around the country.

As Americans learned the names and saw the faces of these killers and victims, fear and outrage grew.

The 24-hour news coverage of the Parkland massacre was typical, and seemingly based on the assumptions of reporters and TV news producers that consumers are drawn to stories of mass murder because of morbid curiosity. Thus, much of the Parkland coverage focused on the killer’s background and apparent motivation, as well as the plight of his victims.

The grisly scenes of mass carnage, the videos of students running for their lives from the school building, and the tearful responses of the victims’ families and friends undoubtedly aroused collective empathy among news consumers around the country.

Many audience members surely identified with the innocent victims and their families, and also looked to news reports for “red flags” that might prevent future attacks. The problem, though, is that excessive attention to a mass murderer and his victims also fuels the dreaded copycat phenomenon.

In addition to those who sympathize with the victims, unfortunately there are at least a few in the audience who identify with the killer. In these cases, they sadistically enjoy viewing the grisly consequences of a school shooting while studying the details, perhaps in hopes of replicating (or even outdoing) that violence elsewhere in the future.

In this way, news reports about a mass murder may serve as a training session for potential killers who use the tragic circumstances of a school massacre as inspiration.

For nearly 20 years, school shooters in countries around the world have referred to the April 20, 1999 slaughter at Columbine High School as their model for gaining fame and enacting revenge. Some killers, particularly those who do not expect to survive their planned attack, leave behind letters, manifestos, photographs and videos that explain their rationale, often in hopes of media outlets around the world publishing their material.

*The killers who intend to survive may envision their name in the headlines, their image on TV, or perhaps even a documentary about their life. Some killers just want to be recognized and remembered — to live on in infamy — and often that’s exactly what we give them.

As part of efforts to combat these dangerous messages in U.S. news stories and to lessen the inspiration for would-be murderers seeking fame, several crime scholars have applied increasing pressure on news media outlets to change the ways they cover incidents of mass murder.

Stop Publishing Killer’s Name?

Criminologists Adam Lankford and Eric Madfis proposed that news organizations stop publishing the names and photographs of these killers, and the “No Notoriety” campaign adds to that list killers’ self-created content like videos, artwork, and manifestos. The idea is to eliminate the potential for recognition or fame that motivates many of these killers.

It seems that some journalists are heeding the call, as the killer’s name was sparingly used in reports about the Parkland school massacre.

Moreover, CNN’s Anderson Cooper has indicated he will avoid the names and identifying characteristics in future coverage of high-profile mass shootings.

An alternative avenue for news outlets is to focus more coverage on the heroic responders who are involved in mass murder incidents, such as students, faculty, staff members and security personnel who demonstrate bravery in dire circumstances.

It appears that there were more than a few heroes at the Parkland school when the shooting began, including the janitor who ushered numerous students out of the hallway, the 15-year-old student who died holding the door open so that others could escape, the football coach who lost his life after stepping in front of the killer’s bullets to protect students, and the geography teacher who shielded his students from gunfire.

Crime has long been one of the most widely followed news topics, so news outlets may hesitate to change their coverage because of concerns about declining sales. Yet public interest in crime news does not necessarily mean that consumers are getting what they want from that coverage.

An Experiment

In fact, we recently published an experiment that was designed to examine the source of consumer interest in news about extreme acts of fatal violence, and the findings produced some potentially important, if counterintuitive, results.

Jack Levin

Jack Levin

We first developed three versions of a hypothetical news story about a massacre at a high school, including photographs (one of a teenage boy and one of a school building with students filing out), headlines, a pull quote, and a paragraph of the story.  All versions included identical elements and differed only by the story focus: One centered on the life of the killer, one on the killer’s first victim, and one on a courageous student who helped to save lives.

The versions were randomly assigned to more than 200 respondents so that one-third read about the mass killer, one-third read about the victim, and one-third read about the heroic student. All respondents were then asked whether they wanted to read more of the news story.

Our findings revealed that respondents were significantly more interested in reading about the heroic efforts of a student who saved lives, compared to stories about the killer or one of his victims.

Our study suggests that sensational reporting that contains grisly details of a heinous crime may actually repel consumers who are more interested in learning about heroic behavior at the crime scene.

Julie Wiest

Julie Wiest

Moreover, focusing on heroism at the site of a horrific school shooting may offer an additional advantage for society: If the copycat effect works to inspire potential killers, it might also work to motivate rescuers who risk their lives to save others.

 Levin is professor emeritus and co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University. Wiest is an associate professor of sociology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. They are co-authors of The Allure of Premeditated Murder, published in 2018. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Broward Schools ‘Hard Corners’ Will Anticipate Shooters

A week after Florida’s governor ousted the sheriff over his department’s handling of last February’s Parkland massacre, the head of Broward County, Fl., schools, potentially facing a similar fate, unveiled a set of security measures to avert the next tragedy.

A week after Florida’s governor ousted the sheriff over his department’s handling of last February’s Parkland massacre, the head of Broward County, Fl., schools, potentially facing a similar fate, unveiled a set of security measures to avert the next tragedy, the Miami Herald reports. Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie rolled out the plan in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which was brutally critical of both the sheriff’s office and school system leadership. Among the improvements in Runcie’s “progress report,” the district has installed 60 “safe spaces” inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School classrooms — areas where students can take cover from an active shooter — and 82 percent of schools have revamped their campuses to have only one point of entry so that access can be better controlled.

The district signed an agreement with the sheriff’s office that would provide law officers with remote, real-time access to any school’s security cameras. Runcie said the district would install “hard corners,” basically designated safe spaces, in all 20,000 classrooms in the district by the end of February. The investigative report issued Jan. 2 by the state commission did not render a judgment on whether Runcie or any leader should lose their job. It did harshly criticize the district for security breaches that allowed shooter Nikolas Cruz, 19, to enter campus with an assault rifle, and for the mishandling of warnings about Cruz made to an administrator.The commission also issued recommendations aimed at improving school safety. Those included allowing teachers to volunteer as armed guardians at their schools, implementing Code Red policies for responding to an emergency and creating a new Office of School Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness with a $3.2 million budget and a mandate to “centralize [safety] training across the district.”


Report Pinpoints Failures in Parkland Shooting Response

The Broward County, Fl., Sheriff’s Office displayed deficiencies in training, command and individual performance in the response to the Parkland school shooting, says a draft report released Wednesday by the state commission investigating the massacre. The panel called for an overhaul of school security measures.

The Broward County, Fl., Sheriff’s Office displayed deficiencies in training, command and individual performance in the response to the Parkland school shooting, says a draft report released Wednesday by the state commission investigating the massacre, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The report by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission recommends that the sheriff’s office conduct an internal review of the performance of seven deputies who showed up, heard shots and failed to take steps to engage the shooter. “Several uniformed BSO deputies were either seen on camera or described taking the time to retrieve and put on their ballistic vests, sometimes in excess of one minute and in response to hearing gunshots,” the report says, calling such behavior “unacceptable and contrary to accepted protocol under which the deputies should have immediately moved towards the gunshots to confront the shooter.”

The report said that other deputies did respond properly. The report also found problems with command and control in the initial time of the crisis. “There was abundant confusion over the location of the command post and the role of the staging area. This stemmed from an absence of command and control and an ineffective radio system,” the report said. It said officers from Coral Springs “had no difficulty in identifying the proper response to an active shooter,” but some Broward deputies “could not remember the last time they attended active shooter training … [or] the type of training they received.” The commission is also recommending an extensive overhaul of school security measures, including mandating lockdown training for staff and creating safe areas in classrooms called “hard corners.” Much of the report focuses on school security upgrades and standardizing procedures for identifying dangerous students. The report does not recommend new gun control policies.


Sandy Hook School Shooter Had ‘Scorn For Humanity’

The contents of 1,000 pages of documents on the young man who killed 26 at a Connecticut school six years ago could be “part of a prevention formula for future mass shootings,” says the Hartford Courant.

More than 1,000 pages of documents obtained by the Hartford Courant from the Connecticut State Police, including Adam Lanza’s writings and a spreadsheet detailing the gruesome work of 400 perpetrators of mass violence, bring into focus the dark worldview of a 20-year-old who killed his mother, 26 people and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The Lanza writings express a wide range of emotions and rigid doctrine, from a crippling aversion to a dropped towel, food mixing on his plate and the feel of a metal door handle, to a deep disdain for relationships, an intolerance of his peers, a contempt for overweight people and a conviction that certain aspects of living are worse than death. Lanza never was off the radar of his parents, teachers and counselors in his schools and the psychiatrists who tried to figure out what was happening with him. It is evident that no one grasped the full picture of what he was becoming.

By 14, a psychiatrist at Yale worried he was becoming a “homebound recluse.” The records suggest that his paralyzing obsessions, germophobia that prevented him from touching door handles with bare hands, a rigid set of beliefs, blacked-out windows of his bedroom and countless hours he spent playing combat video games, “would guarantee his place on the fringe, the Courant says. His isolation had its roots in speech delays as a child, the first of  diagnoses that included Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Sensory Integration Deficit, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. “I incessantly have nothing other than scorn for humanity,” he wrote to a fellow gamer. “I have been desperate to feel anything positive for someone for my entire life.” The newspaper called its story disturbing, but it “helps us identify and understand red flags that could be part of a prevention formula for future mass shootings.”


FL Officials Disclosed Little on Parkland Shooting

After 17 people were murdered in a Parkland, Fl., high school, school officials hired consultants and public relations advisers as part of a persistent effort to keep people from finding out what went wrong, says the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Immediately after 17 people were murdered inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Broward school district launched a persistent effort to keep people from finding out what went wrong, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. For months, schools delayed or withheld records, refused to assess publicly the role of employees, spread misinformation and even sought to jail reporters who published the truth. New information gathered by the Sun Sentinel proves that the school district knew far more than it’s saying about a disturbed former student obsessed with death and guns who mowed down staff and students with an assault rifle on Valentine’s Day. After promising an honest assessment of what led to the shooting, the district hired a consultant whose primary goal was preparing a legal defense. Then it kept most findings from the public and spent untold amounts on lawyers to fight the release of records and nearly $200,000 on public relations consultants who advised administrators to clam up.

School administrators insist that federal privacy laws prevent them from disclosing the record of gunman Nikolas Cruz; that discussing security in detail would make schools more dangerous; and that answers will come when a state commission releases findings around Jan. 1. Behind a shield of privacy laws and security secrets, schools can cover up errors and withhold information the public needs in order to heal and to evaluate the people entrusted with their children’s lives. Nine months after the Parkland shooting, few people have been held accountable for mishandling security and failing to react to signs that the troubled Cruz could erupt. The school district’s own records reveal Nikolas Cruz to be a tortured teen liable to explode at any time. Yet the analysis the district commissioned to help the community “understand,” as its superintendent promised, makes no mention of those episodes.


How School Violence ‘Madness’ Robs Students of Help

Many school districts are spending money on fortifying school buildings at the expense of hiring counselors and psychologists, University of Virginia Prof. Dewey Cornell tells criminologists. He urges more emphasis on prevention.

Schools in the U.S. are much “safer than the public perceives,” says Dewey Cornell, forensic clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia.

Speaking on Thursday at the American Society of Criminology convention in Atlanta, Cornell argued that a national “madness” surrounding mass school shootings has prompted many policymakers to spend money on fortifying school buildings at the expense of providing needed services to troubled students.

Cornell readily conceded that 301 people have been shot at schools, many of them fatally, since the Newtown, Ct., massacre in 2012.

Yet 500,000 people have been shot in non-school settings nationwide during the same period.

“You’re safer in schools than outside,” he said.

In Cornell’s view, the fear of school violence has prompted many educators to adopt a zero-tolerance policy that is “not effective,” expelling many students and making them worse in the process.

What school districts should do, he says, is adopt a thorough threat assessment procedure that “prevents school shootings before a gunman is at your door.”

Many Virginia schools have done that successfully, Cornell said.

He said threats by students and others should be investigated, but 99 percent of them will not be carried out. While many schools are pouring money into metal detectors, stronger doors, and locks, some counselors and psychologists are vastly underfunded, each responsible for 1,000 to 2,000 students, making it impossible to deal with all disturbed students.

Details of the University of Virginia’s prevention recommendations can be found at this site. Cornell spoke at a program on “Understanding, Preventing and Responding to Violence in the United States,” sponsored by the National Institute of Justice.

This report was prepared by Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report.