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Director's Message: Building Knowledge to Make Schools Safer


For many people, the topic of school safety brings to mind recent incidents of gun violence that seized the attention of the nation. Indeed, the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) was conceived in the immediate aftermath of the murders of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. However, because CSSI was launched soon after that heart-wrenching event, some might regard “school safety” as a niche topic that is treated separately from other justice priorities.

I am convinced, however, that this is not the case. As a criminologist, I see how closely CSSI is aligned with many of the overall challenges and priorities for criminal justice in the U.S.

NIJ has administered CSSI since its inception and, over the summer months, worked with our peer review panels to process more than 130 funding applications from some of the nation’s most innovative and expert practitioners and researchers. A few weeks ago, we awarded $69 million for projects to help protect our nation’s schools and students. These 25 projects (in addition to the 23 we funded in 2014, which are now under way) address many of the same challenges faced by our criminal justice system, writ large.

For example, CSSI is addressing:

The role of law enforcement, including use of force and arrest powers, procedural fairness, and building trust between authorities and those they serve.

  • Disproportionate and discriminatory use of sanctions and disciplinary actions.
  • The coordination of appropriate responses to mental health issues, victimization and trauma.
  • Use of evidence-based risk and threat assessments.

Of course, one of the most important elements of CSSI is the effort to address issues upstream — before they become significant matters for the criminal justice system. By working in the school setting with students while they are still young, CSSI is developing and testing interventions to help reduce criminal justice challenges and costs in the future. I also feel confident that — as the practices, policies and programs developed through CSSI touch the lives of today’s students — they are preparing this country’s future leaders in the fields of education and justice.

I am proud that NIJ is playing a leading role in this work as we add to our knowledge and learn more about how to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society — our children — in one of the most important institutions in our society: our schools.