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Posted on: September 17, 2019

Allen Police Department: Rethinking School Threats

female police officer distributing foam footballs to teens sitting in cafeteria

Allen Police Department initiates a new program to help prevent every parent’s worst nightmare.

From Sandy Hook to Santa Fe, two words echo in the aftermath of nearly every school shooting. The simple refrain slices through debates about background checks and waiting periods, metal detectors and armed teachers, revealing a security gap no single policy can fill.

We knew, a classmate or teacher or sibling will say. We knew he was thinking about this. We knew he had talked about this.

In fact, an FBI study found more than half of active shooters told someone about their intent to kill people. It’s a statistic with special relevance for Allen, home to the state’s largest high school and 22 other Allen ISD campuses.

“We know that many active shooters don’t keep their plans a secret,” said Chief of Police Brian Harvey. “The challenge is in discerning between false threats and legitimate ones.”

Last year, Allen Police and Allen ISD partnered to hire five new school resource officers (SROs) over the next five years, expanding the unit of officers and sergeants by 50%. But Chief Harvey believes the most important addition is the department’s new Threat Assessment Program, created based on research from the Secret Service and FBI.

“We’re not trying to see more students in handcuffs,” reassured Sergeant Jason Erter, who leads school resource officers at Allen High School. “Instead, we’re able to accurately identify those few individuals who are capable and motivated to cause harm.”

As part of the change, cases are filtered through a trained group of police officers, school administrators and mental health professionals who collectively discern between immature digs and actual danger. Students meet with school counselors to answer a series of questions. Do they have access to weapons? Have they experienced suicidal thoughts? Have they made any threats? The assessment team then examines each student’s history, looking for other incidents or behavioral issues. 

For 75% of cases, these first steps confirm a student’s threat isn’t actionable, but rather a foolish response to a moment of frustration or even a bad joke. In others, counselors and officers determine the student is not an immediate threat but may benefit from additional intervention such as counseling and monitoring.

“These tools help deter them from continuing down a path towards violence,” said Deputy Chief Ken Myers, who oversees the SRO unit. “We’re reaching them at a vulnerable moment when intervention really makes a difference.”

Now Allen Police are encouraging other area departments to implement the same program. In May, Deputy Chief Myers helped launch the Collin County Area School Safety Symposium. Attended by 100+ officers and educators representing more than 300,000 Collin County students, the event offered a forum for all area school districts to share their safety procedures and best practices.

“When we began this [Threat Assessment Program], only one other district in DFW was doing it,” said Deputy Chief Myers. “We hope that by sharing our knowledge and experiences, we make all schools safer for every student.”

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