The pre-conference part of STN EXPO kicked off Saturday with two courses, including Bus Driver Prevention and Detection of Violence, presented by Casey Utterback of Gray Ram Tactical, LLC.
The course covered important information for bus drivers and transportation directors on student violence, the warning signs to watch for, and what can be done in terms of prevention.
Utterback, a police officer for 15 years, opened the session with a few statistics and facts on student violence, such as the distinction between opportunity-driven violence and purpose-driven violence, with the former occurring when an individual sees an opportunity for violence during a particular moment, and the latter occurs with planning, preparation, and a purpose.
He went on to discuss the different signs to look for, signs that may potentially be indicative of impending student violence. Utterback emphasized that it is very crucial that bus drivers get to know their students, and become familiar with what is normal behavior for each of them. He stressed that unusual behaviors and mannerisms can be signs that a student is plotting a violent attack. ,Some of these signs included:
- Wearing clothing that does not correlate with the weather, such as a heavy coat on a summer day.
- Unusual bulges or shapes in pockets
- Stiff arms or legs, where weapons may be hiding under clothing
- “security taps” repeated, frequent tapping of pockets to ensure an object, such as a weapon, is still there.
“If someone is carrying something they’re not supposed to, and they know that, they’re going to give you what we call ‘tells.’ They’re going to do ‘security taps,’” he said.
Although recent events, such as the recent Oregon school shooting, may lead the public to think that guns are the most common weapons used by student bus riders, Utterback stated that the most commonly used weapons on a school bus are in fact arms and legs. Other objects used commonly as weapons on school buses are pens and pencils.
“In the grand scheme of things, anything can be used as a weapon. But hopefully we can stop this before it starts,” Utterback said.
In terms of prevention, he advised that bus drivers have an open line of communication with teachers and other school staff, as well as stay alert in order to take notice of unusual behaviors.
“If a kid is having a bad day at school and he’s acting up, are you normally notified of that? If a kid is having a bad day on the school bus is that something I tell his teacher? Please share that information. It’s only going to help you and the district out.” Utterback asked.
He also suggested that routes add a “bus captain,” a mature student with no behavioral problems who can perhaps take note of suspicious or threatening behaviors and notify the driver or another district employee.
Utterback also elaborated on some body language signs that can indicate that a student is about to become violent. Some of these include:
- Shedding of clothes, hats, glasses, jewelry
- Chin dropping
- Popping knuckles or wringing hands
- Bladed stance
- Breathing changes
He also indicated that children and teens will often “test” the waters before a fight, such as by entering their target’s personal space and then stepping back.
The session concluded with a discussion of proper procedures during a traffic collision from a law enforcement perspective.
Utterback told STN that the single most important thing that he hopes attendees will take away from the session us the understanding that violence can and will happen, and that it is important to prepare for it in order to stop it before it begins.