Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of bomb threats in schools, and because of a lack of research on bomb threats in particular, has drawn on other research on related problems such as school shootings. You must combine these basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions

Much of what you do will also depend on how the problem presents itself in your jurisdiction. Since bomb threats in schools are a statistically rare phenomenon, it is likely that you may hear of only an occasional threat in your local schools. However, there is always the possibility that a rash of bomb threats may occur. In either case, you will need to ask questions that will lead to an effective response. An effective response will determine: (1) how to deal with the immediate bomb threat, in real time, and (2) how to prevent bomb threats from occurring in the first place. The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of bomb threats in schools, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

The School

Immediate response

  • Are the schools in your locality aware of the problem of bomb threats and their possible consequences?
  • Does the school have a bomb-threat response plan?
  • Does the school district and the local community have a disaster plan?

Preventive response

  • Does the school have a climate of respect and clear and consistent rules of behavior?
  • Does the school keep a record of threats by students or teachers that are not reported to the police?
  • Does the school keep a record of violent incidents that occur in and around the school (including school buses)?
  • Is there a system among teachers for sharing information concerning serious threats or targeted violence?
  • Does the school have effective intervention programs in place to deal with problem behaviors, including bullying?16
  • Does the school have a process for receiving and responding to student grievances?
  • Does the school have an up-to-date telephone monitoring system?
  • Are teachers in the schools aware of the warning signs (see Appendix B) of targeted violence?
  • Do troubled students (potential victims and offenders) have a way to express their concerns to appropriate adults such as counselors or designated teachers?
  • Does the school monitor student activities in and out of the classroom, on school buses and at sporting activities?
  • Does the school have a mechanism for identifying troubled children?
  • Does the school work with parents to encourage supervision of student Internet use?

Threats

  • How many bomb threats at schools have been made?
  • If there is a rash of threats, do some schools report more threats than others?
  • If threats are received, are they targeted against any individuals (as in retaliation against bullies, for example) or are they unspecified?
  • Does the school have a procedure for evaluating the seriousness of threats?
  • When a threat is reported to the police, how serious is the threat and what type is the threat?
  • What kinds of threats are received and do they vary according to type or location of school?
  • What proportion of threats turn out to be hoaxes or pranks?
  • Is there a way for bystanders who hear of threats or observe targeted violence to report such behavior to school authorities?

Munitions

  • Are there reports of weapons use by juveniles either in school or elsewhere?
  • Do hardware stores or other retail outlets notify police of unusual purchases of substances that may be used for bomb construction?
  • Are there isolated areas in your locality where juveniles might experiment with bomb detonation?

Locations/Times

  • Which schools have been the target of bomb threats?
  • Does your town have a graffiti problem that indicates problems of racism or other kinds of hatred and does it extend to any schools?
  • Are all incidents of arson or school break-ins reported to the police? If not, why not? If so, are they followed up to see if they indicate possible bomb threats or incidents?
  • Do incidents of arson, graffiti, school break-ins or bomb threats occur in particular schools or particular areas?
  • If targeted violence and threats are reported, what locations in the schools do they occur? Are there hot spots such as a locker room, a cafeteria, particular bathrooms, a particular classroom?
  • Are there particular times of the day or days of the week when bomb threats more commonly occur?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. In most cases you will need to coordinate collection of information with the schools. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to bomb threats in schools:

  • Reduced number of threats received by school authorities during a particular period in response to a specific intervention, such as increased control by school of telephone access.
  • Reduced amount of time school activities are disrupted by bomb threats.
  • Increased willingness of students to report threats they hear about to teachers (though these may not be formally transmitted to police for action).
  • Increased willingness of school officials to share information with police regarding bomb threats.
  • Increased cooperation between schools and police in determining criteria for reporting threats to police, when police will be called to intervene and what their roles will be.
  • Introduction by schools of proven intervention programs targeted at problem behaviors.
  • Reduced time taken to apprehend offenders.