A Concrete Empirical Approach to Violence

The memorial at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland to the 17 killed on Valentine’s Day 2018 drew hundreds of people on Tuesday.  (John Pacenti/The Palm Beach Post) Photo source: http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com

by: Robert John Zagar PhD MPH

School shootings are complex. Predicting and preventing further school and community violence is also complicated. This is an era of both domestic and foreign terror and we all need to acknowledge the danger by increasing our vigilance.

First, schools whether pre-school, elementary, junior or senior high, college, graduate or professional, need to increase security with more guards, more metal detectors, and a single entrance and exit, where all provide an identification, and visitors sign in.

Second, all threats need to be taken seriously. In every school shootings there were “warning signs” that were ignored or unacknowledged. In Chicago if a pupil comes to school with a weapon or drugs, the police are called and a full police report is filed. Often the student is taken to the police station and later juvenile court. If a threat is make, again the public safety officers are made aware and steps are taken to de-escalate the challenge.

Third, schools have fire and safety drills of what to do when an emergency occurs. Staff and students are prepared.

Fourth, school shootings are a “mental health” issue. Over the past several years mental health professionals have been pushed out of the schools and universities in a cost benefit cost efficiency approach.

Fifth, the current conventional combined approaches to risk assessment are 39% accurate or precise or in the scientific language, sensitive and specific. Background and credit checks are 25% sensitive specific, interviews-judgment, 46%, unstructured medical exams, 49% and paper and pencil tests, 70%, if the appropriate measures are used. We need to add on a more modern way that works.

Sixth, in contrast internet based risk assessments are 97% sensitive and specific. Why the stark contrast? There are thousands of ways to deceptively self-present as measured by the 7 reliable valid validity scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2/A). No human being can remember thousands of equations to predict and prevent mass shootings, homicides, suicides, overdoses and sexual violence.

Seventh, the media have fed into the copycat phenomenon that follows mass murders or active shooting incidents. The day after the shootings there were six copycat school incidents that were prevented. There is also a lot of “fake news” including distortions that there were 18 shootings this year when in reality there were 5, that there were more mass murders in the US when in fact EU has more, etc. This has to end.

So the onus of school and community violence lies on the financial and political decision making leaders. They need to change the current approaches to security in our institutions. Until concrete procedural changes are made, these mass shootings, homicides, suicides, overdoses and sexual offenses will only continue. To lower the street violence the most at risk adults also need to be given jobs, mentors and anger management, planting trees, filling potholes, and rehabilitating our deteriorating infrastructure. We need to divert nonviolent offenders from jails and prisons to electronic monitors and other choices. Demanding empirically based approaches to prediction and prevention, increasing security, and better risk assessment intake with internet based testing will only make our schools, homes, workplaces, and places of worship safe and secure with hope for a better world for families.

Robert John Zagar PhD MPH is a clinical, forensic, industrial, school, and neuropsychologist. He testified before the US House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism and Homeland Security 24 July 2012 about saving 324 lives and $2 billion with the teen summer job program using jobs, mentors, anger management under Mayors Daley and Emanuel and diverting 56% of nonviolent offenders from Cook County Jail copied by President Obama in releasing 6,800 nonviolent federal prisoners by commutation and pardon. Mayor Daley shared Robert Zagar’s research with the University of Chicago who founded the Crime Lab to impact policy reforming the justice and mental health systems. Robert graduated from Northwestern University with a doctorate in research design and statistics and has taught in a dozen universities and authored fifty peer reviewed scientific articles.