Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Columbine High School Massacre

The Search for Solutions

Aerial view of Columbine, partially remodeled since the tragedy.
Aerial view of Columbine, partially remodeled
since the tragedy.

With statistics such as these rising every year, school authorities are at a loss as to what they can do. Large student populations during lunchtimes are impossible to control and it is impractical and illegal to lock children in schools. Many schools, such as Columbine, have law enforcement officers on the premises but their effectiveness is questionable. None of the schools in the Denver metropolitan area have metal detectors permanently in place, as they are impractical and, as Denver Public Schools spokesman, Mark Stevens, said "…if they'd had metal detectors at Columbine, the first fatality might well have been the metal detector operator." Many experts say schools can take precautionary action by erecting fences around the property to limit access, installing security cameras, and training teachers to spot problem children.

Throughout the country, school administrators have been working with school psychologists to put together a behavior checklist to help teachers spot potentially violent students before any problems start. The intention of such a profile would be to alert teachers and parents of potentially violent students so that they can receive counseling, be transferred to an alternative education facility, or be expelled, depending on the situation.

There are a number of character checklists now available for teachers. The National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, California has created a list of 20 warning signs. The American Psychological Association and MTV produced a guide called Warning Signs In the Memphis Conference: Suggestions for Preventing and Dealing with Student Initiated Violence which includes criminologist William Reisman's list of 50 indicators. Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools was commissioned by President Clinton and distributed to schools nationwide. Compiled by the National Association of School Psychologists, the U.S. Department of Education, and other agencies, the guide identifies 16 features that may distinguish violence-prone children, including social withdrawal, feelings of rejection and poor academic performance.

Many critics of "student profiling" programs believe there is a danger that children who do not reflect a desired image may be unfairly labeled. American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman, Emily Whitfield says "Not only are students being unfairly targeted but, in some cases, there's not a whole lot of thought going into it." Recognizing such dangers, Elizabeth Kuffner, spokesperson for the National Association of School Psychologists warns, "Definitely there are warning signs. Definitely, there are things to look for. But to just say a kid fits this profile, we don't think this is a good idea."

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