Among the 59 recommendations released earlier this summer by a special task force on school safety, one can be especially helpful in thwarting attacks, according to safety officials: An anonymous tip line - so that anyone seeing danger signs can report concerns without fear of retaliation.
Often potential attackers exhibit danger signs - and the sooner these are picked up on and reported to the right people, the more likely violence can be stopped, according to Perry Plummer, Director of N.H. Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Plummer, who joined The Exchange this week, said the anonymous tip line is in the works. Plummer was chairman of Governor Sununu’s School Safety Preparedness Task Force.
The state has spent about $30 million on improving the physical safety of schools - installing special locks and cameras and fortifying doors. That’s made schools safer, Plummer said.
But there’s still plenty more to do, he suggested, and much of it involves providing help to students in the form of counseling or some other intervention.
“That will be the largest piece,” he said. “Money is going to need to be looked at for the mental health service to integrate the mental health services in the school to connect the community partners with the school counselors and school mental health professionals,” he said.
Twelve of the 59 recommendations address training for school staff on mental health issues.
“I think that with those kinds of recommendations and responsibilities there needs to be some emphasis at the state level that ‘Yes, we can we can help with this,’ said Carl Ladd, Executive Director of the N.H. School Administrators Association.
“Because once we identify the problems, then we have to do something about it. Raising awareness is the easiest part of this campaign. It's going to be the nuts and bolts afterward that really will matter.”
As Ladd sees it, privacy laws have made it hard for school officials to follow up on threats made on social media, for instance. “And in many ways New Hampshire is hamstrung by the very, very strict privacy laws that would allow school administrators to investigate some of these issues as the students bring them forward,” Ladd said.
Chief Matthew Canfield of the Laconia Police Department says anonymous reporting can help lead police to troubled students and others who might not have engaged in criminal action but who might be willing to talk and accept help before committing violence. Canfield was a member of the Governor’s task force.
“Certainly everyone has Constitutional rights, and if they didn't do anything - there is nothing they can be charged with or in trouble for. However, it doesn't prevent us from having a conversation with them and digging in a little bit deeper. Maybe that's a cry for help. Maybe that's someone looking to reach out and wanting help. And a conversation can often turn that switch and offer those services to them before something terrible happens.”
Maxine Mosely, a school counselor for 40 years who works at the McLaughlin Middle School in Manchester, said students have to make a shift - from bystander to “upstander.”
“I think we really need to do a much, much better job having them understand what an upstander is. Most kids are bystanders - they see something happening, and they hear something, and they don't do much with that information, because they're afraid that they're going to get retaliated against or be called a snitch or a rat. And the culture needs to change.”
When it comes to guns, the task-force report encourages the legislature to study red-flag laws and background checks for gun purchases but does not take a position on whether those laws are necessary.
Still, Chief Canfield suggested red-flag laws can be seen as analogous with state laws addressing guns and domestic violence – and those have helped quell violent situations.
“If someone's experiencing a mental health crisis, we don't have that same authority to take firearms and to secure them during that time of crisis. Numerous times people will be experiencing a mental health issue and they’ll go seek help but they still have access to those firearms. It's worked tremendously well with the domestic violence restraining orders.
We take (guns) for that period of time; we don't confiscate them forever. It's a period of time until that situation has been resolved. And that would enable us to secure the firearms and prevent a tragedy from happening”