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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 04/19/2010

New analysis of violence on campus

By Valerie Strauss

Colleges and universities should review their threat assessment capacities because some of the conventional beliefs about these attacks are not accurate, a new report issued by the federal government shows.

For example, while much attention is given to the “traveling” attacker, such as the student who killed 32 students in a shooting spree at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, only 3 percent of the attackers actually move from building to building.

Ever since Cho, 23, killed 32 students and wounded 17, institutions of higher education have been reviewing and improving their threat assessment procedures and their ability to respond to a dangerous situation.

They should reassess, according to the new report, called “Campus Attacks: Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions Of Higher Education," which was just issued jointly by the U.S. Secret Service, the Education Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

It analyzes 272 acts of violence against specific targets on college campuses in 42 states and Washington D.C., from 1900 through 2008.

Of those, the perpetrators caused 281 deaths, at least 190 of whom were students and at least 72 who were employeed. Another 247 people were injured, at least 144 of them students and at least 35 employees. Not included were the attackers who were injured or killed.

Most of the incidents were carried out by one person, 94 percent of whom were male, with an average age of 28, the report said.

While schools generally concentrate their threat assessments on those people identified as potential threats on campus, the study says, 30 percent of the attackers were not directly affiliated with the school.

The report also said that of those attacks carried out within the same building, only 4 percent of the assailants moved to different locales, such as classrooms, offices or hallways.

“This finding may have tactical and strategic ramifications for first responders and emergency management professionals,” the report said.

The primary motivation of the attacks could not be determined in 17 percent of the cases, but in the rest, these were the causes, with percentages of incidence:

Related to an Intimate Relationship: 33.9 percent
Retaliation for Specific Action(s): 13.7 percent
Refused Advances or Obsession with the Target: 10.1 percent
Response to Academic Stress/Failure: 10.1 percent
Acquaintance/Stranger Based Sexual Violence: 9.7 percent
Psychotic Actions: 7.9 percent
Workplace Dismissal/Sanction: 6.2 percent
Need to Kill / Specific Victimology: 3.1 percent
Draw Attention to Self/Issue(s): 3.1 percent
Bias-related: 2.2 percent

The study also notes that from 2005 through 2008, there were 235,599 crimes reported on college campuses: 74.6 percent were burglaries and motor vehicle thefts, 9.2 percent were aggravated assaults, 8.4 percent were robberies, 5.9 percent were forcible sex offenses, 1.7 percent were arsons, and 0.1 percent were non-forcible sex offenses.

The remaining 0.1 percent of reported crimes during those years were murders and non-negligent manslaughter and negligent manslaughter. Of the 174 murders and non-negligent manslaughters, 80 occurred on campus -- 13 of which took place in residence halls; 82 occurred on public property immediately adjacent to campuses; and 12 occurred at non-campus facilities.

Some of the report’s conclusions are:
• Incidents of targeted violence are a year-round issue. Campus safety resources may be required throughout the calendar year, not just during the academic year.

• On-campus targeted violence is not the only challenge; 20 percent of the incidents took place off-campus or in school locations not on campus and against members of the school community. “This suggests that communication between campus safety professionals and municipal law enforcement agencies is essential.”

• Of those incidents that occurred at on-campus or non-campus sites, 36 percent took place in administrative/academic/services buildings, 28 percent took place in residential buildings, and 27 percent took place in parking lots or campus grounds. Security plans should “equally cover responses” to all of these areas.

• Firearms and knives or bladed weapons were used most frequently (75 percent) during the incidents. The remaining 25 percent of the incidents involved strangulation, blunt objects, poison, vehicles, explosives, incendiary/arson methods, or physical assaults without a weapon.

“Understanding the varied weapons used in these incidents may prompt investigators to look beyond whether a subject possesses or has access to a more traditional weapon (firearm or knife) when evaluating his or her risk.” the study says.

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 19, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Higher Education, Research  | Tags:  campus violence, research on campus violence, school violence, study on campus violence, violence at school  
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