Violent Students: Contributing Factors

Bret Brooks
Posted on October 1, 2009

School bus drivers and transportation administrators constantly multitask. As bus drivers negotiate around traffic on the highway, they must also watch the students on board to ensure their safety.

Understanding security- and violence-related issues will aid school bus drivers in their endeavor to establish a safe bus environment and it will, by extension, reduce the chances that violent incidents will occur on school buses.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s study of Crime in Schools and Colleges, crime in schools has increased every year so far this decade. There were 181,468 students arrested in the first half of this decade.

Of all the various types of crimes that are committed in and around a school, the most common crime is simple assault. In 2000, there were 92,242 criminal incidents. By 2004, this total jumped to 147,584.

Of all the violent offenses, 13- to 15-year-olds commit the most, followed by 16- to 18-year-olds. Males commit approximately 75 percent of the violence.

Race also plays an important role in understanding what type of person is most likely to commit an act of violence. Throughout the U.S., Caucasians commit more violent acts than African Americans in a ratio of about two to one.

Throughout the school year, the most violence occurs during the month of October. March, September, November and April follow, respectively. There is also some evidence that demonstrates that more violence occurs during the middle of the week compared to on Mondays or Fridays.

Common weapons used
When violence occurs, the most likely weapons a student will use include his or her hands, arms, feet and legs. Punching and kicking are the most common forms of violence reported on school buses. If a student decides to use a weapon, it is usually a backpack, books, pens or pencils.

If a student plans an act of violence ahead of time, he or she may bring a weapon on the bus. The most common weapons include knives, some form of blunt instrument (a baseball bat, for example), handguns and bombs.

What can lead students to behave violently?
There are several personal and social factors that can lead a student to commit an act of violence. According to The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective published by the FBI, there are four basic factors that shape and affect the characteristics of a violent student: personality traits and family, school and social dynamics.

No one factor should be considered conclusive evidence for the likelihood that a student will commit an act of violence. However, a student who exhibits troubling behavior and is exposed to situations or involved in activities at home, school or with peers that could lend themselves to engaging in acts of violence should be closely monitored.

Behavior to watch for includes poor coping skills, frustration, depression, alienation, an attitude that the student is superior to everyone else, low self-esteem and inappropriate humor.

Family dynamics that may lead some students to a path of violence include a turbulent parent-child relationship, access to weapons, lack of intimacy and no limits on television or Internet access.

School dynamics also play a vital role in identifying students with possible violent tendencies. Some indicators include tolerance for disrespectful behavior, unsupervised computer access, a code of silence among students and teachers, and inequitable discipline.

Societal factors that can influence a student’s behavior and potentially lead to acts of violence include peer pressure, drug and alcohol use, and media outlets (movies, video games and television shows).

Communication can prevent violence
A child who demonstrates concerning behavior and is subjected to multiple risk factors must be monitored. Simply keeping an eye on this type of student may prevent violence because the school bus driver can take steps to counteract a violent situation.

The Caucasian male between 13 and 15 years old, in the month of October, during the middle of the week, should also be monitored as this is, statistically, the person in the U.S. most likely to commit an act of violence. This does not mean that all students fitting this description will become violent — these are simply the statistical averages.

While racial demographics vary across the U.S., the averages regarding the age of the person who commits a violent offense, the weapons used and the time that the incident occurs will remain the same.

With this knowledge, it is essential that communication is established between school bus drivers and school officials. Implementing a two-way street of information sharing allows those on both sides to know when a specific student may become violent.

In addition to taking note of risk factors and being aware of which students, statistically, are more likely to behave violently, there are other immediate, nonverbal indicators to look for. These indicators can suggest that a student may be planning a violent act and enable an authority figure to take steps to prevent a dangerous situation from occurring. Watch for an article on this topic in the November issue.

Bret Brooks is a senior instructor for Gray Ram Tactical LLC, a full-time police officer, SWAT team sniper, and a captain in the U.S. Army. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice and a Master of Arts degree in national security, and has focused numerous studies on terrorism and violence. He can be reached at


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