The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to pass a motion authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn and co-authored by Supervisor Kathryn Barger to examine ways to expand the county’s School Threat Assessment Response Team to better protect county schools from shootings.
START is a program established under the county’s Department of Mental Health made up of mental health professionals who respond to principals, counselors, school security officers, or parents worried about students who have talked about suicide, exhibited concerning behavior, or made threats.
After receiving a credible threat, START team members visit the school, evaluate the student, and go to the student’s home.
In most cases, START can recommend counseling. In more serious cases the student might be put on a 72-hour-hold or arrested if a crime has been committed.
START is currently made up of just 10 full-time staff. But as the number of credible threats against schools has increased, their resources have been stretched thin. Although this team used to receive an average of 15 calls per week, in the last week alone, START has received 63 calls of potential threats.
Supervisor Hahn has recommended expanding this 10-person team to better respond to increased threats.
“I have no doubt that START has saved lives,” Hahn said. “But this team’s resources are stretched thin. In a county of over 10 million residents, it is clear we need more than 10 people working on this issue. We need to invest in this team and give them the resources they need to take every single threat seriously because our children’s lives are at stake.”
Last week, LA County Sheriff’s deputies thwarted a plot by a student to carry out a shooting at El Camino High School in Whittier. Deputies recovered AR-15 rifles, handguns, and high-capacity magazines at the student’s home.
Law enforcement also intervened in similar credible threats against schools in Long Beach, Inglewood, Bellflower, Cerritos and Santa Clarita.
In Santa Clarita, two students were arrested and charged with making criminal threats in separate incidents on the same day, February 22, at Santa Clarita Valley International charter school and West Ranch High School.
“Early identification and intervention are vital in our mutual effort to identify and prevent possible incidents of school violence,” Barger said. “We cannot ignore the red flags and we must actively seek out troubled young people and get them the help they need before a tragedy occurs.”
Hahn, who previously served in Congress, reiterated the importance of passing comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation but stressed the LA County would do everything possible locally to prevent tragedy.
“Until Congress passes real comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation, we should not be surprised to see more mass shootings in this country,” Hahn said. “That won’t stop us from doing everything we can at the local level to protect our kids.”
The Director of Mental Health, in coordination with the Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, and the Sheriff’s Department, along with input from entities such as the faith-based community, local non-profit organizations, community providers, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, will report back in 30 days with recommendations to enhance the START program including possible program expansion.