District Attorney Hoovler Announces Release of
School Critical Incident Procedures
Recommendations to School Districts on Procedures to
Assist Law Enforcement in the Investigation of Critical Incidents
That Occur on School Grounds or at School Events
Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler announced on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, that his office has developed and released a set of procedures that school districts can follow in responding to incidents of violence or potential violence that occur on their campuses or at school events. The procedures were developed in cooperation with school superintendents, are voluntary on the part of school officials, and are designed to supplement the emergency procedures that school districts already have in place. The purpose of the recommended procedures is to enable school districts to effectively assist law enforcement in securing evidence, in case a school incident is later handled as a criminal matter.
Under the recommended procedures, a “critical incident” is any circumstance that results in harm, or that presents a threat of harm, to the students, staff, or property of a school, including circumstances occurring on school grounds, on school buses, or at school functions that occur off school grounds. Critical incidents include, among other things, verbal or written statements, social media posts contemplating harm, acquisition or use of weapons or other harmful substances, and completed acts of harm.
Features of the recommendations include:
• Maintaining Lines of Communication. The recommendations suggest that a school district notify police immediately when a critical incident occurs. Police will then notify the District Attorney’s Office, which has an experienced prosecutor on-call at all times. Those notifications will open a three-way line of communication, so that the school district, the police, and the District Attorney’s Office can share appropriate information about the incident.
• Preservation of Evidence. The procedures recommend steps that a school district can take to preserve evidence relevant to a critical incident, so that that evidence can be retrieved by law enforcement using lawful process. Possible forms of evidence include, among other things:
o Verbal, written, or electronic communications;
o Electronic devices that the involved parties possessed or had access to;
o Electronic communications made by the involved parties that are stored on school or district servers;
o Relevant video that is under the control of the involved school or district;
o Any evidence in areas of school property that the involved parties had access to at relevant times.
• Mental Health Evaluations. Since the commission of critical incidents sometimes involves individuals who have mental health issues, the recommended procedures suggest to school districts that, in appropriate cases, the involved parties might be referred for mental health evaluations, which the District Attorney’s Office will consider in determining how criminal charges might be handled.
“All too often, students and non-students perpetrate or threaten acts of violence on school campuses or at school functions,” said District Attorney Hoovler, “and it is the duty of educators and law enforcement to see that those incidents result in as little harm as possible, or, ideally, no harm at all. In addition, when those incidents occur, it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that those cases are investigated properly, so that perpetrators can be punished or, if appropriate, receive mental health treatment that they need. Through the recommended procedures that we announce today, we hope to be able to bring our schools and law enforcement together, so that we can jointly protect the lives and safety of our children, and can ensure that the cause of justice is served after those incidents occur.”