How to Prevent School Shootings | Jillian Peterson | TEDxHamlineUniversity

TEDx Talks
8 May 201912:34
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TLDRThe speaker, a former special investigator and current college professor, discusses the importance of understanding the 'pathway' to violence in preventing mass shootings. They debunk the myth of a single mass shooter profile, highlighting patterns such as the majority being male, white, and connected to the school. The speaker's research involves a comprehensive database analyzing mass shooters' life histories and community factors. They argue that current security measures are ineffective and propose a holistic approach to intervention, focusing on mental health, community support, and fostering strong relationships in schools as key to prevention.

  • πŸŽ“ The speaker's first job was with the New York Capital Defender's Office, where they created life histories for people facing the death penalty.
  • πŸ€” They found a correlation between the severity of a crime and the tragic life story of the perpetrator, suggesting a pathway to violence that could be prevented.
  • πŸ” The speaker is now a college professor studying mass shootings, using routine activity theory to understand the conditions under which such crimes occur.
  • 🏫 Current strategies like lockdown drills and increased security may not be effective, as they do not address the root causes or motivations behind mass shootings.
  • πŸ“Š A comprehensive database of mass shootings since 1966 has been created to analyze the life histories of the perpetrators and understand their pathways to violence.
  • πŸ₯ The project has been funded by the National Institute of Justice and includes community research and interviews with incarcerated mass shooters.
  • πŸ—“ The 20-year anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting highlights the lack of progress in making schools safer from such incidents.
  • πŸ”Ž There is no single profile of a mass shooter, but patterns do exist, such as being male, often white, a student or former student of the school, and typically in crisis or suicidal.
  • 🚫 Lockdown drills may inadvertently train potential perpetrators and could be traumatic for students, potentially increasing anxiety and fascination with violence.
  • 🚨 Threats of violence should be viewed as cries for help and opportunities for intervention, not just as punishable offenses.
  • 🀝 Building strong relationships between students and adults in schools can provide support networks and early warning signs of potential crises.
Q & A
  • What was the speaker's first job after graduating from college?

    -The speaker's first job was as a special investigator with the New York Capital Defender's Office, which works on death penalty cases.

  • What is a 'bio-psycho-social development to life history'?

    -A 'bio-psycho-social development to life history' is a comprehensive profile of a person's life, including biological, psychological, and social factors, created to understand individuals facing the death penalty for committing heinous crimes.

  • What was the speaker's initial expectation when meeting their first client?

    -The speaker initially expected to meet someone like Hannibal Lecter, a reference to a fictional character known for being a cultured but mentally ill serial killer.

  • What did the speaker learn about the pathway to murder?

    -The speaker learned that understanding the pathway that leads someone to commit murder is crucial for preventing future violence, and this understanding is often reflected in the sad and broken lives of those who commit such crimes.

  • What is routine activity theory and how is it currently applied to mass shootings?

    -Routine activity theory suggests that crime and violence occur when a motivated offender, a suitable target, and a lack of capable guardians converge. It is currently applied to mass shootings by focusing on hardening targets and increasing guardianship through security measures.

  • Why is the current approach to preventing mass shootings considered ineffective?

    -The current approach is ineffective because it does not address the root causes or motivations behind the offenders' actions, focusing instead on reactive measures like security and drills.

  • What is the purpose of the database project on mass shootings that the speaker and their team are working on?

    -The purpose of the database project is to collect and analyze comprehensive life history information on mass shooters to understand the pathway that leads to mass shootings, with the goal of preventing future incidents.

  • What significant event marked the 20-year anniversary in the script?

    -The 20-year anniversary marked the Columbine High School shooting, which was at the time the worst massacre at a U.S. high school.

  • What was the worst year on record for student deaths in school shootings according to the script?

    -The worst year on record for student deaths in school shootings was 2018.

  • What are some common patterns found among mass shooters as described in the script?

    -Common patterns among mass shooters include being male, predominantly white, current or former students of the school, experiencing a crisis prior to the shooting, and being suicidal. Many also leaked their plans ahead of time, often on social media.

  • Why does the speaker argue that current school security measures might be counterproductive?

    -The speaker argues that current measures like lockdown drills could be counterproductive because they potentially train and desensitize students to the act of a school shooting, and may even trigger fascination in vulnerable students.

  • What is the speaker's view on how to handle threats of violence in schools?

    -The speaker believes that threats of violence should be viewed as cries for help and signs of a potential suicidal crisis. They advocate for holistic intervention involving mental health care, social services, and family involvement, rather than punishment.

  • What role did the speaker emphasize in preventing school shootings?

    -The speaker emphasized the importance of strong, healthy relationships between students and adults in the school, as these relationships can provide support and intervention during crises.

  • What is the speaker's belief regarding the use of research and data in preventing school shootings?

    -The speaker is a firm believer that research and data can help move forward in preventing school shootings by assessing current strategies, grounding policy conversations in evidence, and guiding preventive measures.

πŸ•΅οΈβ€β™‚οΈ Understanding the Path to Violence: A Former Investigator's Perspective

The speaker begins by recounting their initial job as a special investigator with the New York capital defender's office, where they were responsible for creating bio-psychosocial life histories of individuals facing the death penalty. They describe their experience with their first client, Jason, who had committed a horrific murder, and how this encounter led them to understand the importance of the backstory behind such crimes. The speaker then transitions into a discussion about mass shootings, criticizing the current approach to prevention that focuses on security measures without understanding the motivations of the offenders. They introduce their ongoing research project, which aims to build a comprehensive database of mass shootings since 1966, analyzing the life histories of the shooters to better understand and potentially prevent future incidents.

πŸ” Patterns and Challenges in Preventing School Mass Shootings

In this paragraph, the speaker delves into the complexities of defining and understanding mass shootings, particularly in schools. They discuss the discrepancies in definitions and the resulting confusion in quantifying the incidents. Drawing from their research, they highlight patterns among school shooters, such as their gender, race, connection to the school, and mental state prior to the event. The speaker criticizes the current strategies of lockdown drills and increased security, arguing that they may inadvertently contribute to the problem by normalizing the violence and potentially traumatizing students. They advocate for a more holistic approach to intervention, focusing on mental health care, substance abuse support, and community involvement, rather than punitive measures.

🀝 The Power of Relationships in Preventing Violence

The final paragraph emphasizes the importance of strong, healthy relationships between students and adults in schools as a key factor in preventing mass shootings. The speaker shares personal anecdotes from interviews with educators who have been involved in or have prevented such incidents, highlighting the role that attentive and caring adults can play in recognizing and responding to signs of crisis. They stress the need for training all school staff in suicide prevention, crisis intervention, and de-escalation techniques. The speaker concludes by reiterating the value of research and data in shaping effective policies and strategies for preventing school shootings, moving from a reactive to a proactive stance.

πŸ’‘Special Investigator
A special investigator is a professional who conducts in-depth investigations, often for legal or administrative purposes. In the context of the video, the speaker's role as a special investigator involved assembling comprehensive life histories of individuals facing the death penalty. This role is crucial for understanding the background and circumstances that may have contributed to their actions, which is a central theme of the video.
πŸ’‘Bio Psychosocial Development
Bio psychosocial development refers to an integrative approach that considers biological, psychological, and social factors in understanding human behavior and development. The speaker used this approach to create life histories of death row inmates, highlighting the importance of considering multiple dimensions in assessing the pathways that lead to violent crimes, which is a key concept in the video.
πŸ’‘Mass Shootings
Mass shootings are incidents where multiple people are shot, typically in a public place, often resulting in numerous casualties. The video discusses mass shootings, particularly in schools, as a critical societal issue that requires a deeper understanding of the motivations and backgrounds of the perpetrators to develop effective prevention strategies.
πŸ’‘Routine Activity Theory
Routine activity theory is a sociological theory that suggests that criminal acts occur when a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian coincide. The speaker critiques the application of this theory to mass shootings, arguing that it fails to prevent violence because it does not address the root causes or motivations behind such acts.
πŸ’‘Motivated Offender
A motivated offender, in the context of crime theory, is an individual who has the intention and drive to commit a crime. The video emphasizes the need to understand what motivates individuals to become mass shooters, as this understanding is crucial for developing effective prevention measures.
Suicidality refers to thoughts, plans, or actions related to suicide. The speaker notes that a significant percentage of school shooters had suicidal intentions, suggesting that addressing this aspect could provide new pathways for prevention and intervention.
πŸ’‘Crisis Intervention
Crisis intervention involves strategies and actions taken to assist individuals during times of acute distress or crisis. The video suggests that schools should focus on building relationships and providing crisis intervention training for all adults, not just counselors, to better identify and support students in distress.
πŸ’‘Lockdown Drills
Lockdown drills are safety exercises conducted in schools to prepare for potential intruders or active shooter situations. The speaker argues that these drills may not only be ineffective but also potentially harmful, as they could inadvertently train and desensitize students to the act of a school shooting.
πŸ’‘Threat Assessment
Threat assessment is the process of evaluating the seriousness of a threat, often with the aim of preventing violence. The video discusses the importance of viewing threats not as criminal acts but as cries for help, indicating a need for mental health intervention rather than punishment.
πŸ’‘Columbine High School Shooting
The Columbine High School shooting refers to a tragic event that occurred in 1999, where two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher. The video uses this event as a reference point to discuss the lack of progress in school safety over the past 20 years and to underscore the urgency of finding effective prevention strategies.
πŸ’‘Mental Health
Mental health refers to the psychological and emotional well-being of an individual. The speaker highlights the importance of addressing mental health issues, particularly suicidality and crisis situations, as a key component in preventing school shootings and improving overall student well-being.

Speaker's initial job was with the New York capital defender's office, creating life histories of people facing the death penalty.

The realization that understanding the life story behind a crime can help prevent future violence.

Introduction of routine activity theory as a framework for discussing mass shootings.

Critique of current security measures like lockdown drills and their potential to increase anxiety and fascination with violence.

Launch of a database project to analyze life histories of every mass shooter since 1966.

The project's recent funding by the National Institute of Justice.

Details on the data collected for each mass shooter, including early childhood trauma and social media use.

Research into communities where mass shootings occur and interviews with incarcerated shooters.

The 20-year anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and the lack of progress in school safety.

The discrepancy between the number of school shootings and the FBI's definition of a mass shooting.

Patterns found among mass shooters, such as being male, often white, and having a history of suicidality.

The issue of defining 'mass shooting' and the variance in criteria used by different sources.

The prevalence of school shooters being current or former students and the implications for security measures.

The importance of addressing the suicidality component of school shootings for prevention.

The need for a holistic approach to intervention, including mental health care and social services.

The significance of training all school adults in suicide prevention and crisis intervention.

The role of strong relationships between students and adults in preventing school shootings.

The belief in the power of research and data to inform policy and prevent school shootings.

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