A new computerized screening program designed to anticipate
threatening or violent behavior by students, and rating each child on a
violence scale of 1 to 10, will begin field trials this month in about
25 school districts across the United States.
The program, called Mosaic 2000, was developed by Gavin de Becker
Inc., a security consultation firm, with some assistance from the
federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The firm said the idea
came on the heels of the Columbine High School shootings earlier this
year when law enforcement officials and high school administrators
expressed an interest in finding ways to identify troubled students who
may be on the verge of committing similar acts in the future.
“MOSAIC is an advanced computer assisted assessment system that
provides guidance in the evaluation of situations that might escalate to
violence,” according to the security firm. “It combines the influence
and experience of the nation’s leading experts in several related
fields,” such as psychology, law enforcement, judicial, prosecutorial,
mental health, probation, threat assessment, sociology and the
According to Gavin de Becker, the system is designed as “a way of
breaking down a case to its elements, then organizing and expressing the
issues. MOSAIC suggests to the user a series of questions that are most
likely to produce a quality evaluation.” And, says the security firm,
the current “2000″ series is based on previous systems currently in use
by government law enforcement agencies, local police and sheriff’s
departments, and even by famous people to help them evaluate alleged
But not all education experts are confident the system will work as
advertised. Even though the system would confidentially vet and rate
students on a violence scale of 1 to 10, some see it as intrusive,
misleading, and likely to incorrectly categorize innocent children.
The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has criticized
the pilot program as a “technological Band-Aid” driven by profiteering
in parental fears. The Reynoldsburg, Ohio school district is one of the
pilot program schools.
“We are understandably hesitant about any program designed to
classify students or anyone else in society as potentially dangerous
based on supposedly credible data fed into a black box,” said Raymond
Vasvari, legislative director of the Ohio ACLU.
Betty Montgomery, the Ohio attorney general, disagrees, noting that
public school districts already maintain confidential files on students
whom school officials perceive as potential threats. She believes the
program will be effective because it is based on “a range of objective
experience,” and downplayed fears that the program is another “Big
“I think it’s a wonderful tool that has a great deal of potential,
and I hope it’s properly used by the schools,” said Andrew Vita,
associate director for field operations of the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms. He added that BATF uses a separate MOSAIC program
to investigate abortion clinic bombings.
“We are trying to get some of our focus and resources up front of
violence — in violence prevention, violence avoidance,” Vita said. The
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also is developing a program
with the federal Department of Education to train school officials in
how to cope with another threat publicized by the Columbine tragedy –
homemade explosives on school grounds.
The de Becker firm said a variety of concerns would be addressed in
the form of a range of questions school officials must answer about
students they are monitoring. Everything from a history of family abuse
to whether or not the student abuses animals or has access to firearms
in the home will be addressed.
The questions allow a range of answers, from a student who has “no
known gun possession,” for example, to one who has “friends with gun
access.” This association of questions about firearms and the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has alarmed critics of the program.
Larry Pratt, president of Gun Owners of America, noted that even the psychiatric profession
admits predicting violence in individuals is uncertain at best.
“I have a book in my library at home written by psychologists and
psychiatrists, for their trade, that says right up front that in a best
case, you’d be better off predicting who’s going to commit violence by
flipping a coin,” he told WorldNetDaily. “They admit that candidly,
regardless of the indices of case studies they have.”
“That’s what I think of MOSAIC 2000,” he said. “A principal will do
better flipping a coin than using this program.” He added that he
believes the purpose of the BATF involvement is to “gather more
information about guns and gun owners out there.”
Nor is everyone convinced that the computer-assisted program is
superior to more conventional security methods. Yale University, which
bought a MOSAIC variant from de Becker in 1994, said that although Yale
Campus Police use the program, some students still preferred to hire
their own private security guards.
Although the main focus of the program will be high school students,
it is designed to be utilized for all grades, 1 through 12. Reynoldsburg
school officials said they didn’t think student confidentiality laws
would be violated by MOSAIC, since the system won’t be connected to any
However, a 1996 Los Angeles Times article on a MOSAIC variant program
offered by de Becker’s firm to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s
Department said officials there stored all completed questionnaires in a
The answers to some 48 questions “will be fed into a database, which
will compare the batterer to more than 4,000 abusers whose actions
escalated to homicide, and then print a report rating the level of
danger,” the Times reported.
Jeff Roehm, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms, told WorldNetDaily that none of the information collected
locally “goes back to the government in any way.” He said his agency is
not officially sponsoring — meaning financing — the MOSAIC 2000
program. Rather, he said, BATF “had sent maybe five or six people” to
consult with the de Becker firm after the idea had been presented to
“There’s been some confusion on our involvement in this program,” he
said. “But it’s all a private venture on the part of this firm. He (de
Becker) wanted to do something to help the school systems, and he
developed it himself.”
“We had a couple people help him on the development of the program
from a law enforcement angle, especially from the firearms aspect,”
Roehm said. “There’s no federal funding going into this, and I’m not
sure where the private funding is coming from.”
He added that schools will not be mandated to use MOSAIC 2000 program
by the BATF, and would have to sign private contracts themselves with
the firm if they chose to utilize the program.
“I sure think this program is worth a try,” he said, “because it just
might help. Surely school administrators think anything that could help