In-Depth: Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to promote behavioral threat assessment to prevent targeted violence and mass casualty events:
“I am honored to reintroduce the TAPS Act this Congress with Marco Rubio leading the charge in the Senate. Our nation is desperately looking for solutions to stop the senseless violence that affects too many of our communities and schools. This bipartisan bill will save lives by focusing efforts on prevention rather than simply reaction, because once the first shot is fired, it is too late. The TAPS Act will provide our states and local communities with the resources, training, and support needed to stand up community-driven, multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment units – allowing us to connect the dots and manage threats before an attack can occur.”
When he previously introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, Rep. Babin said:
“Whether it’s a shooting, stabbing, bombing, or other example of predatory violence, mass casualty events are occurring too often. These horrific tragedies are impacting our nation indiscriminately. Americans want solutions, and I believe we found one. Threat assessment and management is the process of identifying, investigating, assessing, and mitigating threats, and has been used successfully to protect our president and other prominent figures for decades. Unfortunately, it’s not well known or utilized on a state and local level. The TAPS Act aims to bridge the gap and train local law enforcement, and others, on how to use this process. This is about connecting the dots before an attack occurs, because once the first shot is fired, it’s too late – we have failed.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) — who previously served as the Orlando, Florida chief of police — notes that mass violence affects too many places:
“You should have the right to attend concerts, schools, nightclubs, and places of worship without the fear of violence. Fortunately, there are promising ideas to prevent targeted attacks before they ever occur. Everyone knows the phrase ‘if you see something, say something.’ Yet state and local law enforcement agencies often lack the tools and resources to analyze and evaluate the warning signs that frequently precede mass attacks. This bill will help law enforcement agencies large and small learn from the best practices of agencies like the Secret Service and Capitol Police to identify and stop violence before the first shot is fired. By modernizing our approach, we can keep every American safer and give each of us the freedom to live our lives without fear of targeted violence.”
Senate sponsor Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) says proactively engaging threat assessment experts can help prevent future tragedies:
“We must proactively engage with experts in the field of threat assessments in order to help prevent future tragedies. We have the expertise to implement systems to identify and stop dangerous individuals before they commit an act of violence, but we have yet to fully and effectively develop and utilize it to prevent future attacks. By bringing threat assessment experts together and utilizing evidence-based behavioral threat assessment and management processes, this bill will help equip our communities with the tools they need to prevent future tragedies. I want to thank Senators Sinema and Tillis for leading this effort with me in the Senate and Congressman Babin for his continued leadership in the House.”
In a 2004 article in “School Psychology Review,” researchers at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education noted that profiling potentially violent students is problematic:
“Profiling of potentially violent students is problematic. Sewell and Mendelsohn (2000) pointed out that the pressure to publish such profiles or warning signs has resulted in lists that exceed the boundaries of existing knowledge. There is no body of research demonstrating the validity of these profiles or lists of warning signs, and there is concern that profiling will result in the false identification of students and violent who are not in fact dangerous (O’Toole, 2000). Because serious acts of violence are relatively infrequent, and committed by a small proportion of students, it is difficult to identify items or signs that are sufficiently specific to them. Many risk factors correlated with violence are not specific indicators of violence, and can be found in a much larger population of students.”
However, despite these concerns, the authors concluded that “student threat assessment is a feasible, practical approach for schools that merits more extensive study.”
This legislation has 114 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 57 Democrats and 57 Republicans, in the 116th Congress. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), has four bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including three Republicans and one Democrat, in the current Congress. Last Congress, Rep. Babin introduced this bill with the support of 20 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 15 Republicans and five Democrats, and it didn’t receive a committee vote.
Organizations that have endorsed this legislation include the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP), Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE), National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations (NCSBI), Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), San Diego County District Attorney, San Diego County Office of Education, The Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD), The University of California Council of Chiefs of Police and National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Additionally, the Secret Service, FBI and Dept. of Education have all recommended that K–12 schools implement threat assessment teams.
Of Note: Behavioral threat assessment and management was developed by the Secret Service after the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. It entails a process of determining a potential threat’s credibility and seriousness and interrupting a pathway to violence. This process has successfully protected U.S. presidents and foreign dignitaries.
Threat assessment has also proven successful in preventing school shootings. In 2001, a New Bedford, Massachusetts high school student told a teacher that several classmates had been discussing plans to bomb and shoot people at the school. The tip made its way to law enforcement professionals, including an investigator who’d read a Secret Service report on threat assessment in schools and reacted accordingly, and bomb-making materials, instructions and plans to carry out a Columbine-like attack were found in the suspected students’ possession.
In the absence of this bill, the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals has developed resources to help universities (and others) take proactive steps to protect their communities. Additionally, the Secret Service, in collaboration with the Dept. of Education, began offering threat assessment training to schools nationwide in 2002.
As of July 31, 2019 there had been 19 mass killings (defined by the FBI as four or more dead) and four mass shootings in public places so far this year (compared with 10 in 2018 and seven in 2017 at the same point in those years). That data was published prior to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / D-Keine)