Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal by Supervisor Janice Hahn and co-authored by Supervisor Kathryn Barger to expand and strengthen a program that aims to prevent shootings and violence at LA County schools.
The School Threat Assessment Response Team (START) is a program established under DMH 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 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.
The START program currently is made up of 10 staff. However, in response to the increase in high profile school shootings across the country, in February Supervisor Hahn and Supervisor Barger proposed examining ways the team could be expanded and strengthened. Since that first motion was passed in February, the START team has received 133 calls of possible threats.
“I have no doubt that the START program has saved lives,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “But this team’s resources are stretched thin. In a county of over 10 million, we need more than a team of 10 people working on this issue. We are investing in the START program and giving them the resources they need to take every single threat seriously because our children’s lives are at stake.”
“In partnership with law enforcement and our schools, the START program is an important tool that can work to prevent tragedies by responding to clear warning signs and cries for help by those who may be a danger to themselves or others,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “We must ensure that our schools, parents, teachers, and students help us gather information and so that mental health professionals can effectively assess and address concerning behavior.”
The Department of Mental Health provided a report back with several recommendations including expanding the START program, developing an education outreach program to train students, teachers, and community members to recognize and report threats, and develop a countywide communications awareness campaign. With today’s motion, the Department of Mental Health has been instructed to implement these recommendations and hire an expert consultant to develop the best way to expand the START program to best meet the needs of our schools.
With passage of this motion, the Department of Mental Health will partner with the Los Angeles County Office of Education to reach out to all LA County school districts to provide resources for a school violence prevention awareness campaign, training modules and a school violence prevention video for school orientations ahead of this coming school year.