DENVER – Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers today issued a report on school and campus safety, compiled by a national task force of Attorneys General which he co-chairs. The report was compiled over a three-month period with the help of law enforcement and educational safety experts from across the country.
“Just last week, we saw again how vulnerable our educational institutions can be to acts of violence,” commented Attorney General Suthers. “This report includes valuable assessments and recommendations to help prevent violence in our high schools and colleges.”
In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre in April of this year, Attorney General Suthers was appointed co-chair of the Task Force on School and Campus Safety by National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) president Thurbert Baker. The Task Force authored the report to summarize common vulnerabilities in school safety and recommend methods for improvement. The report addresses threat assessment, protocols for dealing with the mentally ill, information sharing among law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders, and crisis response planning and communications.
“Whereas several of the reports issued in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy have been voluminous and exhaustive, the goal of our report was to be brief and concise and to stimulate dialogue among school administrators and policy makers on a few key issues” Suthers continued. “The recommendations will be sent to every lawmaker in Colorado and our nation’s capitol, as well as every K-12 and college administrator here in Colorado.”
Key recommendations from the Task Force include:
- State and federal lawmakers should reexamine privacy laws in an effort to remove several significant barriers to effective information sharing. Government agencies should clarify how information – including mental health records – can be shared for the benefit of public safety.
- State legislatures should consider enhancing state laws to ensure that criminal background checks contain relevant information to disqualify mentally ill individuals from purchasing or possessing firearms. The U.S. Department of Justice must provide clear guidance on which records are relevant.
- Colleges and large high schools should implement a multi-point, redundant communication system that combines existing technology, such as text messaging, with low-tech communication, such as loud speakers, to provide information to students as soon as possible after an incident occurs. Expert testimony suggested that when two-thirds of students are contacted by various means, a tipping point is reached whereby virtually all students will be informed in a short period of time.
- State legislatures should mandate that all schools and colleges receiving state funding create, maintain, update, and practice emergency management plans. Experts indicate that all too often, these plans gather dust instead of being actively practiced and updated.
- Disturbing behavior must be reported to an individual or team of individuals with expertise and training in risk assessment. Decisions on these issues cannot be left to untrained individuals.
The 25-member Task Force, chaired by Attorney General Suthers and Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, was convened to update a 1999 report issued by NAAG after the deadly shootings at Columbine High School. Although much of the information in the 1999 report remains relevant, the Task Force updated recommendations and determined what issues have been brought into sharper focus as a result of the tragedy at Virginia Tech.
“I hope every school and college in Colorado will carefully consider this report,” concluded Attorney General Suthers. “We should do everything reasonably possible to ensure a safe educational environment.”