A growing majority of colleges nationwide are keeping tabs on students through “threat assessment teams” charged with identifying dangerous students, prompting debate over how much power the schools should have as they try to flag disturbing behavior, reports USA Today. Virginia and Illinois now legally require such teams, and 80% of colleges nationwide have started them since the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead. At Pima Community College in Arizona, a Behavior Assessment Committee identified alleged gunman Jared Loughner as a person of concern months before a weekend massacre that killed six and injured 13 others, and the school suspended him.
Questions are now being raised about the appropriateness and effectiveness of the teams. In the wake of the Arizona shooting, some experts are questioning whether the school could have done more to help Loughner, or to alert authorities beyond campus borders. “There's a dangerous person put out in the community,” says Stetson University College of Law professor Peter Lake. Since April 2007, news reports show that at least 67 people have been killed and 69 others injured in attacks by U.S. college students. Threat assessment teams, also given softer names such as “behavioral intervention” or “student of concern” committees, spread quickly after the Virginia Tech tragedy, where various officials each noticed red flags but didn't connect the dots in time to stop Seung Hui Cho from going on a rampage. The number of schools with threat assessment teams increased from roughly 20 before Virginia Tech to about 1,600 today.