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Child Safety

Can all psychiatrists and psychologists predict violence?

Your article that appeared recently contained a reference to becoming educated about threats and predictions of violence. After a student at my son’s school wrote a ‘‘shoot to kill’’ list, I contacted a couple of adolescent psychiatrists to get more information about threats and predictors, but was essentially told there was not enough quantitative data available to help forecast when writers of letters take the next step to violence. Do you have any more information?

Only a few psychiatrists or psychologists have experience or genuine familiarity with the field of predicting violent behavior. Many elements of society have to evaluate threat letters and develop the best management plan for each case: the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, every Governor’s office, U.S. Capitol Police, and on and on. There are strategies for these high-stakes evaluations that improve predictions and case-management of situations that might escalate to violence.

After Littleton, an Emergency Conference was held in Los Angeles on the very question you ask, and there is a 4-hour video you can get for your own information, and for your local high school. It includes these experts:

  • Barbara Nelson is Dean of UCLA’s School of Public Policy and Social Research.
  • Dr. James McGee is an advisor to the Maryland State Police who recently headed a comprehensive study of the 14 students who have committed multiple shootings at school. He presented a profile of these violent boys, as well as lessons from the case studies.
  • Paul Mones is author of When A Child Kills, a seminal work in the field of violence by children.
  • Gregory Gibson’s son was killed during a mass shooting by another student at his school. The day of the shooting, the killer received a package from a gun manufacturer that he refused to open in the presence of school officials. The same day, an anonymous caller told administrators he intended to kill people. Mr. Gibson described the school’s unsuccessful battle to avoid liability.
  • Deputy District Attorney Scott Gordon is a founding member of the Stalking and Threat Assessment Team of the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office; he chaired a panel discussing interventions and management methods for students determined to be dangerous.
  • Robert Martin, former Commanding Officer of LAPD’s Detective Headquarters Division and founder of the department’s Threat Management Unit, addressed the history of high-stakes predictions.
  • Gil Garcetti, District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles delivered the keynote address.

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