Miami-Dade County, with a population of 2,617,176, is the most populous county in Florida, ranking seventh overall in the United States.Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) is the fourth largest school district in the United States with a student population exceeding 348,000.2 The Miami-Dade Schools Police Department (M-DSPD), the fourth largest school district law enforcement agency in the United States, provides comprehensive police services to this highly diverse school community.3
The Proactive Approach
As with many urban areas, Miami-Dade County faces significant challenges from a wide range of threats including gangs, Part 1 Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) crimes, bullying, and drugs.4 With the index for total crimes in Florida down by nearly 5 percent in 2013, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) released a grant solicitation in 2014 entitled “Developing Knowledge about What Works to Make Schools Safe,” based on a proactive approach to school safety to continue the efforts to reduce crime and criminality in the United States.5 This grant solicitation, “part of NIJ’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, marries the school safety needs of America’s public schools with strong, independent research that assesses the potential solutions to those needs and builds evidence on what works in enhancing school safety.”6
One of the objectives of the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative is to utilize wide-ranging research and data to discern which personnel, programs, policies, and practices either individually or in concert are effective in making schools safer. The ultimate goal is to significantly advance the development of knowledge regarding approaches to school safety.7
School Safety Intelligence Information Gaps
The increasing need to protect U.S. students has led law enforcement agencies to consider innovative strategies for collecting and consolidating information, including data from publicly available sources, in their crime prevention efforts. One major recent development in preventative policing efforts is the use of social media by police to circumvent threats. The use of social media in school crime prevention is particularly relevant, considering the rise of Internet threats as precursors to school violence.8 With little effort, police are able to access information posted on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or other social media sites. As users voluntarily post this information for public consumption, it becomes immediately visible, stored, searchable, and usable as intelligence, providing a new data source for monitoring potential safety threats.9 Virtual environments are considered to be fertile sources of actionable intelligence for school safety stakeholders regarding threats, school safety, and security-related issues.10 The challenge to intelligence efforts, however, is that the explosion of social media sites and the high rate of use by youth to post threats or other concerning material results in too much information to sort through and connect to other extant data.
The Campus Shield Initiative
In consideration of the above challenges, the M-DSPD management team identified two factors supporting the need for a unified, data-driven system of proactive approaches to school safety: (1) the current magnitude of school safety threats, and (2) the inability to develop actionable information in time to prevent such threats. This approach to the prevention of crime and security-related incidents on M-DCPS campuses led to the development of the Campus Shield concept application to the NIJ for their school safety grant. M-DSPD partnered with WestEd, a nationally recognized nonprofit research firm, and the Police Foundation to implement, test, and experimentally evaluate the effects of the innovative “intelligence fusion center”—Campus Shield—for proactively identifying and addressing school safety threats and issues to serve the dual purpose of prevention and planning and resource allocation.11
NIJ evaluated the grant proposal and awarded $4.3 million to the Enhancing School Safety Through Digital Intelligence: Evaluating Campus Shield initiative.12
A major aspect of the Campus Shield initiative involves a linkage to mental health services through access to mental health specialists. This multi-component approach that links law enforcement analysis and mental health services represents an innovative strategy for addressing urban school safety. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Campus Shield package, experimental testing will be conducted, which will also contribute knowledge to the field about the impact of such complex interventions.
The M-DSPD Campus Shield program was developed with the most effective police strategies in mind. First, the program represents a major advancement in how the agency collects, stores, and uses information relevant to school safety—an innovation that is the very embodiment of intelligence-led policing. Second, by disseminating information on threats and trends to school site personnel such as school resource officers (SROs) and principals, Campus Shield provides opportunities for problem-oriented policing strategies (e.g., getting a troubled student to mental health services via the mental health specialists) and focused patrol (e.g., increased presence in areas of campus deemed unsafe by students or redirecting surveillance cameras to these areas).
The primary goal of Campus Shield is to improve school safety and climate through the deployment of a specific data collection, analysis, and dissemination system that permits proactive responses to potential threats, both immediate (as in the case of gang activity) and those that emerge over time (such as deteriorating school climate or escalations in bullying). Success is contingent on the completion of the following objectives:
- developing a data system that aggregates information from several sources, including school incident reports, tips from concerned citizens, and local jurisdiction police data;
- developing tools to analyze that data to provide a comprehensive assessment of internal and external threats to schools;
- developing a reporting mechanism that provides rapid, real-time information to schools concerning the nature of any threats and potential response options;
- conducting a pilot assessment of the data system, analytic tools, information disseminated, and response, and using the results to fine-tune Campus Shield;
- conducting a rigorous evaluation of Campus Shield to determine its effectiveness in reducing criminal and school offense incidents and improving school climate; and
- disseminating findings broadly, through academic and mainstream publications and web media, including a website with videos demonstrating Campus Shield in action.
The Campus Shield Plan
Campus Shield supports the school district’s safety efforts and provides additional vision and resources needed to combat a broad array of threats to school safety. Campus Shield itself is a fusion center—a centralized location for receiving, managing, and disseminating intelligence on school safety threats. Three additional resources are also included to supplement and enhance the Campus Shield fusion center: access card entry (information on entries and exits from the school building to be recorded and fed into Campus Shield); surveillance cameras (will also feed into Campus Shield); and the linkage of Campus Shield to mental health specialists who provide direct services and are responsible for acting as a liaison between school-based student services professionals and community-based providers.
Campus Shield functions as the intelligence umbrella for M-DSPD. Campus Shield personnel collect, store, and analyze criminal intelligence information while also disseminating actionable information that supports school safety in and around Miami-Dade schools. Through this platform, M-DSPD gathers intelligence identifying criminal patterns or trends, suspects, criminal enterprises, and other safety issues for M-DCPS via continuous, real-time, comprehensive analysis of the collected intelligence from a variety of systems. By integrating key intelligence systems with those already deployed in M-DCPS, Campus Shield personnel have the ability to collate and disseminate information to improve safety and the educational climate. These data facilitate the identification of potential threats and also lead to the sharing of important information with schools and other agencies. This information sharing network includes fusion centers that focus on the southeast Florida region, including the M-DSPD’s Homeland Security Bureau, the Florida Fusion Center, and the South Florida Virtual Fusion Center.
Like most law enforcement agencies, M-DSPD has systems that collect information, such as a records management system (RMS), computer-aided dispatch (CAD), and the Mobile Field Reporting (MFR) system. While these are effective systems for facilitating response to emerging situations, the lack of links between them and other safety systems reduces the potential for proactive policing. Furthermore, these systems are not currently capable of disseminating actionable intelligence back to SROs, principals, or outside fusion centers. Campus Shield, however, effectively integrates data from RMS, CAD, and MFR, along with data from other law enforcement agencies (including local, county, federal, and state); visitor access and video surveillance records; the M-DCPS Blackboard Connect system; M-DCPS student records; Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers; and social media. This integration of data from multiple information sources presents a major departure from “business as usual” for police agencies and many school districts.
The Campus Shield data team, including a network administrator and analysts, mine the incoming data. Analytical tools examine coded information to search for patterns and indicators of potential safety threats. These analyses present a major improvement over current practice; the system can examine and process information from multiple data sources simultaneously. This permits M-DSPD to develop and disseminate intelligence that will proactively address school safety threats. For instance, Campus Shield will
- identify or corroborate potential trouble spots;
- identify patterns of behaviors, to increase awareness of SROs and officers responding to an incident;
- develop early warning signals of trouble, including individual students facing mental health issues that may need services;
- forecast potential victimization based on an assessment of limited information of past experiences; and
- examine patterns of school access (i.e., who is coming onto campuses) and how those patterns correspond with school safety concerns.
The coding and mining processes will be continuous, with Campus Shield staff reviewing output and delving deeper with additional queries when warranted. Dissemination to local building staff and other law enforcement agencies will rely on the nature of that information: who is most likely to best use that information to improve school safety and climate and who may be impacted by any potential issues. Reports will also be sent to other fusion centers in Miami-Dade County so they can review them, provide input and feedback, and use that information to craft their own responses. Any feedback received will then be used to further modify Campus Shield’s data collection, processing, and reporting routines.
Another important by-product of Campus Shield is that it accommodates the dissemination to and receipt of intelligence from local personnel, such as principals and SROs, as well as the various municipalities throughout Miami-Dade County. For example, reports may be sent to M-DCPS district offices to review and respond to or to collect and provide more information. In some instances, principals and SROs may be called upon to provide Campus Shield with more information about certain threats. In this case, information will flow to schools and then back to Campus Shield for the purposes of disrupting, dismantling, or eliminating threats.
Campus Shield facilitates proactive policing, as it is anticipated that threats will be identified before they advance to incidents. In addition, it should encourage proactive policing by other agencies, as intelligence from Campus Shield is disseminated to fusion centers in the area. It should be noted that Campus Shield will function not only as a centralized location for receiving, distributing, and analyzing intelligence information, but also as a collective decision-making tool through which school principals and SROs can use the data generated to work in partnership to identify threats and to prevent them from escalating. Once trends or patterns are shared with the principal and the SRO at a particular school, a collaborative process involving the schools and the police should be undertaken to resolve the threat or address the underlying problem.
An equally important component of Campus Shield is the mental health specialists. Student mental health concerns are considerable, particularly in larger school districts. When implemented, Campus Shield will likely unearth situations in which students are expressing thoughts of suicide or self-harm or threats against others (perhaps by posting something on a social media website or telling a friend). Thus, access to mental health specialists will be provided before more serious conditions or circumstances can develop. These specialists will be licensed mental health clinicians who specialize in youth and adolescent issues. They will assist SROs and principals by proactively addressing mental health crises before they escalate and, when an incident does occur, helping school staff address the consequences effectively in a timely manner. By providing this connection to mental health specialists, Campus Shield enables SROs and principals to have direct access to psychological support services that can help avert crises or prevent more critical incidents from developing on campus.
WestEd will conduct a formative and summative evaluation of the Campus Shield project. The formative stage will be comprised of a pilot test conducted at three middle schools and three high schools. The summative evaluation will employ a controlled trial that relies on 12 experimental sites and 12 control sites to examine how the implementation of Campus Shield improves student behavior and school climate. The impact portion of the study will be guided by key research questions. The formative and summative portions of the evaluation will focus on key implementation issues to aid with program improvement and inform the field about how to effectively deploy similar interventions.
To assess the impact of Campus Shield on criminal and school offenses, a monthly data extract will be provided for each school over the 24-month study implementation period from the M-DSPD data system. These data will identify the types of the offenses, the location, and the date of the incidents. Further analyses will examine the impact of Campus Shield on violence and safety-related offenses (including bullying) and nonviolent offenses (e.g., drug possession or use and property theft).
The dissemination of findings related to the Campus Shield initiative and outcomes is another key goal of the project. A program website, conference presentations, book chapters, journal articles, and research reports will be developed in order to communicate information to a variety of audiences and stakeholders. The website will help to educate the public about the program and communicate findings, alerts, and other pertinent information, and it will host a series of videos that explain the project and provide scenarios that demonstrate the Campus Shield process to add to the body of knowledge of evidence-based school safety model practices. ♦
1U.S. Census Bureau, “State and County QuickFacts: Miami-Dade County, Florida,” http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12/12086.html (accessed December 3, 2014).
2Miami-Dade County Public Schools, “Student Enrollment,” http://www.dadeschools.net/StudentEnroll/Calendars/enroll_stats_aor.asp (accessed December 19, 2014).
3Ian A. Moffett, 2013–2018 Strategic Plan, Miami-Dade County Schools Police Department, March 4, 2014, http://mdspolice.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/M-DSPD-2013-2018-Strategic-Plan.pdf (accessed December 12, 2014).
4Jim DeFede, “A Night Inside South Florida’s Gang Wars,” CBS Miami, May 7, 2012,
http://miami.cbslocal.com/2012/05/07/a-night-inside-south-floridas-gang-wars (accessed December 19, 2014).
5Florida Department of Law Enforcement, “Crime in Florida: January to December 2013,” April 18, 2014, http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Content/getdoc/f6d1f24d-053e-466b-a67e-3cbe2fd38de6/CIF_annual13.aspx (accessed December 5, 2014).
6Greg Ridgeway, “Comprehensive School Safety Initiative: Dear Colleague Letter,” National Institute of Justice, April 16, 2014, http://www.nij.gov/funding/pages/fy14-dear-colleague-school-safety-knowledge-building.aspx (accessed December 4, 2014).
8David Geer, “Posting a Threat,” University Business (November 2012): 39–42, http://www.universitybusiness.com/article/posting-threat (accessed January 9, 2015).
9Daniel Trottier, Social Media Surveillance & Society, The Privacy & Security Research Paper Series (London, UK: Westminster University, November 29, 2013), http://www.projectpact.eu/privacy-security-research-paper-series/privacy-security-research-paper-series/%238_Privacy_and_Security_Research_Paper_Series.pdf (accessed December 3, 2014).
10Bureau of Justice Assistance, “School Violence: Echoes from the Digital Playground,” Real Crimes in Virtual Worlds (December 2013): 1–2, https://www.bja.gov/Publications/Drakonats-School_Violence.pdf (accessed December 3, 2014).
11National Institute of Justice, “What Works to Make Schools Safe—NIJ, Miami-Dade Schools Police Department—Evaluating Campus Shield,” http://nij.gov/topics/crime/school-crime/Pages/school-safety-initiative.aspx (accessed December 16, 2014).
12National Institute of Justice, “Comprehensive School Safety Initiative Awards for 2014,” http://nij.gov/topics/crime/school-crime/documents/comprehensive-school-safety-initiative-awards-fy-2014.pdf (accessed December 9, 2014).
Please cite as:
Ian A. Moffett and Hector R. Garcia, “Enhancing School Safety Through Digital Intelligence: The Campus Shield Initiative,” The Police Chief 82 (March 2015): 36–39.
From The Police Chief, vol. LXXXII, no. 3, March 2015. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.