L.A. County supervisors seek to expand program that aims to reduce school shootings
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to pursue expansion of a county program designed to prevent school shootings.
The proposal, written by Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger, asks mental health professionals and law enforcement officials to report back to the board with options on how to bolster the School Threat Assessment Response Team.
Hahn said that until Congress takes action to curb gun violence, schools in L.A. County are at risk.
“We’re forced to confront the terrible reality that our own schools here in L.A. County are not immune from these tragedies,” she said.
Since the program was created in 2009, mental health professionals have worked with law enforcement to identity and provide help to students who show signs of potential violence.
The program currently has 10 mental health professionals on staff, but because of an increase in calls, Hahn said she thinks it needs to expand.
“In a county of over 10 million people, we need more than 10 people working on this issue,” Hahn said in a statement.
In the last year, mental health professionals with the program conducted ongoing interventions with 127 students, Hahn said.
But in the weeks since a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 people, the program has seen a surge in potential threats.
In the last week alone, the threat-response team has responded to 63 referrals, Hahn said.
“I have no doubt that the START team has saved lives,” Supervisor Hahn said during the meeting. “But as credible threats increase, their resources are being stretched too thin.”
Dr. Jonathan Sherin, L.A. County’s mental health director, said in the eight years the program has operated, 8,000 calls have come in. Of those calls, 100 required staff to engage with individuals over periods lasting six months to three years.
Hahn said the proposal will also look into ways to do outreach with nonprofit and faith-based groups to educate local community groups that work with children to watch for red flags.
Elaine Williams, school safety chief for the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District, said having a program that helps provide services early on to students showing warning signs will derail threats before they escalate.
Her district includes El Camino High School in Whittier, where officials uncovered an alleged shooting plot by a student who had two AR-15 rifles among other weapons and ammunition.
Since the school shooting in Florida, local officials have also responded to threats of violence at schools in Long Beach, Inglewood and San Bernardino.
Williams said she hopes the program will also provide training to parents, students and teachers for how to respond to red flags.
“What’s needed is not just more staff … but training for parents and for students,” she said.
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