September 4, 2019

Mass Shooting Contagion 
Virginia Tech Memorial
There is a growing body of research documenting mass shooting contagion with media, and social media even more specifically, playing a central role. Recent articles from Campus Safety Magazine and other national media outlets have highlighted studies conducted by Arizona State University, Hamline University in Minnesota, and Old Dominion University. It's important to note that the data available thus far is limited but important to consider and be aware of.
According to Campus Safety Magazine, since the two mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH, police have reported at least 30 people have been detained on threats of mass shootings, with one of the most recent resulting in the arrest of a student at High Point University. This comes as no surprise to researchers who study mass shootings, including Sherry Towers, a faculty research associate at Arizona State University. Towers had spent most of her career modeling the spread of infectious diseases and began using the same mathematical model to see if violence spread contagiously. In an interview with NPR, Towers said, "what we found was that for the mass killings, so these are high-profile mass killings where there's at least four people killed, there was significant evidence of contagion. We also found significant evidence of contagion in the school shootings." These shootings tend to receive national and even international media coverage, which creates a window when a shooting is most likely to lead to more incidents, typically about two weeks. Towers' findings were published in 2015 and similar patterns were confirmed by Jillian Peterson, a criminologist at Hamline University in Minnesota and founder of the nonpartisan think tank,  The Violence Project, funded by the National Institute of Justice.
Peterson has found similarities between mass shooting contagion and suicide contagion (see our previous article on suicide contagion). She has conducted interviews with living mass shooters in prison and found that these people often start out feeling suicidal. Peterson is quick to clarify that a small minority of people considering suicide go down the path of violence toward others and people with any kind of mental health problems aren't more likely to be violent than others.
Economists Michael Jetter and Jay Walker, of the University of Western Australia and Old Dominion University, respectively, also concluded that media plays a heavy role in contagion. In a working paper they published in 2018, the findings "consistently suggest a positive and statistically significant effect of coverage on the number of subsequent shootings, lasting for 4-10 days. At its mean, news coverage is suggested to cause approximately three mass shootings in the following week."

In addition to traditional media coverage, social media coverage soars both during and after a mass shooting event. One communications student at Elon University analyzed (PDF) the differences in social media use between Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Parkland. Understanding the evolution of social media and how it is used today to convey intense moments from a live active shooter incident is a dramatic departure from even 10 years ago.
In an interview with Wired, Michael Jetter explained, "Many of these people (shooters) want fame. In manifestos by some of these shooters, they say, 'I want to be famous, and I want to be recognized, I want to be feared.' We found a way to test for that empirically, and the results seem to confirm that if you give them that room in the media, then you just encourage others."
Some media outlets have made concerted efforts to limit naming shooters or showing their photos, rather focusing on victims and their stories. Pennsylvania State University behavior analyst Jonathan Ivy suggests several guidelines for reporting on mass shootings including:
  • not naming the shooter;
  • avoiding in-depth descriptions of their rationale;
  • decreasing the duration of news coverage after a shooting; and
  • not providing unnecessary accounts of the shooter's actions before, during, or after a shooting.
The answer to media coverage is undoubtedly complex since the media has a public safety duty, and this does include communication via social media. It is likely additional research on mass shooting contagion will continue as more connections are revealed. As always, it remains crucial for students, faculty, staff, and community members to inform law enforcement of anything suspicious. The See Something, Say Something campaign applies to mass shooting prevention, not just international terrorism prevention. 

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National Security Officer Appreciation Week  
This September 15-21, 2019 is the fifth annual observance of National Security Officer Appreciation Week, a time to recognize the commitment of our nation's security officers to help maintain safe and secure workplaces, schools, institutions of higher education, shopping malls, and communities. Security officers are hard-working, highly trained individuals who are often our country's first responders. These individuals deter crime, lead evacuations, work closely with local law enforcement, and are constantly vigilant in their efforts to keep us safe.
National Security Officer Appreciation Week is an opportunity to recognize the contributions security officers make daily, profile the many roles security officers fill, disprove old misconceptions and stereotypes, and raise awareness of security career opportunities. 
" Campus Security Professionals are responsible for one of our nation's most valuable resources: our children," said Stephen Aborn, Director of Education at Allied Universal . "Their selfless dedication to their jobs means continuous training, understanding emerging technologies, and their role in high-risk situations. On campuses nationwide, our security professionals strive to become part of the fabric of vibrant, diverse campus communities, which speaks volumes of the type of individuals that serve on our campuses today. Campus security professionals deserve our appreciation not just this week, but throughout the year, for their dedication to helping keep our campus communities safer."
The best way to recognize a security officer is to simply say thank you. Allied Universal has also created a certificate of appreciation that is available as an editable PDF. This can be awarded to any security officer as a sign of recognition. Follow #SecurityOfficerAppreciationWeek to read messages of thanks that are shared across social media throughout the week.
The National Center for Campus Public Safety offers our sincere appreciation and thanks to the individuals who serve as security officers helping make our campuses safer.

Professional Development Opportunities

Title: Improving Your Clery Act Reporting Procedures
Organization: Clery Center 
Date: September 19, 2019 
Location: Online
Fee: Free
Title: Introduction to Domestic Extremism and Hate Groups
Organization: Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services
Date: October 17, 2019 
Location: Middletown, VA 
Fee: Free
Title: 2019 NASPA Multicultural Institute: Advancing Equity and Inclusive Practice
Organization: NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education
Dates: December 8-10, 2019   
Location: New Orleans, LA     
Fee: Registration fee

For additional trainings and events, access our searchable online calendar

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This project was supported by Grant No. 2013-MU-BX-K011 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.
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