As part of an effort to prevent violence in Manassas schools, two agents from the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit will hold a workshop analyzing the common threads of recent major school shootings.
All 35 administrators and supervisors for the City of Manassas's eight public schools, as well as police supervisors, commanders and social services staff, are required to attend the Aug. 2 workshop at Metz Junior High School.
"We're hoping to learn what happened in other localities so we can predict and prevent that kind of violence from happening here," said School Superintendent James E. Upperman. "We're not looking for guarantees but lessons learned in other places."
The workshop, which will be closed to the public, is part of a larger effort by city police and school administrators to prevent violence in Manassas schools.
"We are struggling with how to respond to troubled youth," Manassas Police Chief John J. Skinner said. "The FBI will share with us early detection and intervention strategies and analyze the trend and pattern of violent behavior. We hope to glean anything we can."
Some experts in criminal behavior are skeptical of the value of profiling previous acts of violence as a means of crime prevention.
"This is the kind of response people expect, but it will not work in the long run," said Lawrence Sherman, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic rather than talking about lifeboats."
Sherman said that youths are 44 times more likely to be killed outside school than inside. "Our resources should be put in high-crime areas where youth and adults alike are being killed," he said.
James Alan Fox, professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University, agreed that profiling efforts, while well-intentioned, are misguided.
"It is a bankrupt, worthless approach to dealing with youth violence--a case of a very big haystack and almost no needles." Fox said. "You cannot put together a reliable profile. Any attempt to do so leads to too many false positives, and you end up stigmatizing many good kids by calling them future killers. In our panic, we are looking to solutions that just won't work."
Upperman disagreed. "I buy into this effort wholeheartedly," he said yesterday.
He defended the workshop by pointing to other efforts to make schools as safe as possible, including student training in crisis mediation and resolution and faculty training in juvenile violence prevention.
Skinner discussed the workshop at Monday's City Council meeting as part of planned efforts to create a school crisis response plan.
"I wish we had a model in place--that if a tragedy happens, this is how the response would unfold," Skinner said.
The multiagency response plan--which will be designed to handle hostage situations, student shooters, parental abductions and other school-related crises--could be ready as soon as late fall, Skinner said.