Comprehensive School Safety Initiative: Dear Colleague Letter

Investigator-Initiated Research

The solicitation referenced in this letter has closed. View a list of awards made under the solicitation.

Thank you to everyone who submitted an application.

April 11, 2014

Dear Colleagues:

The purpose of this letter is to alert school officials and social and behavioral scientists and researchers about an exciting research opportunity. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is interested in receiving proposals related to our "Investigator-Initiated Research: The Comprehensive School Safety Initiative" solicitation. The announcement has been on the streets for a few weeks now, but we would like to provide more insight into the kinds of proposals we are seeking.

It is most important to note that the solicitation is wide open — NIJ will consider any research topic that can add to our knowledge base about school safety. Think broadly: What do we know and what do we need to know? This is your opportunity to test innovative ideas about school safety. Does your idea have the potential to make a difference where school safety is concerned? Can it be implemented in the real world? If successful, could it be adopted by schools across the country or schools in certain parts of the country (e.g., rural areas)?

The Department of Justice Appropriations Act, 2014, provided funds for NIJ to conduct research about school safety. Accordingly, NIJ developed the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative to use a variety of research and data collection efforts to learn which programs, policies and practices (either individually or in concert) are effective in making schools safer. The broad-based initiative involves several components, including bringing together researchers and practitioners to better understand the causes of and best responses to school violence, assessing technologies and mechanisms, and implementing research programs in local schools to test various approaches to enhancing school safety.

The purpose of the “Investigator-Initiated Research” solicitation is to learn more, through a variety of research methodologies, about programs, practices, and policies (either individually or collectively) that work to make school safer. NIJ recognizes that one of the most effective approaches to creating a safe learning environment is to ensure that schools develop a comprehensive school safety strategy by analyzing data related to school crime and culture. School safety strategies typically have a number of components, including factors related to data collection and analysis, school culture and climate, training of staff, involvement of law enforcement, effective school discipline policies, mental health services, evidence-based prevention programs, student involvement, and engagement of parents and community groups.

NIJ is interested in research that rigorously examines the efficacy, effectiveness, efficiency (cost/benefit) and sustainability of various aspects of the aforementioned components of a comprehensive school safety strategy. This knowledge will provide practical information that schools can use to develop the most effective school safety models and programs.

Examples of issues NIJ is interested in funding include:

  • The efficacy and cost/benefit of having law enforcement professionals or other security personnel in schools, their potential involvement in a school-to-prison pipeline and their most effective roles and responsibilities.
  • The short- and long-term effects of school discipline policies, school discipline alternatives, restorative justice and peer mediation programs.
  • The costs/benefits of placing various types of mental health personnel in schools and their most effective roles and responsibilities.
  • The effectiveness of various responses to active school shooter drills.
  • The effectiveness of various threat assessment approaches currently being used in schools.
  • An analysis of the most effective approach for improving school climate and culture.
  • The efficacy and cost/benefit of various school safety technologies and physical security measures, and their impact on safety and on students’ perceptions of safety.
  • The impact of campus alert systems, such as those deployed on college campuses.
  • An evaluation of school resource officers who are funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

Schools and school administrators may want to obtain answers to more specific questions, such as:

  • Are the actions we are taking to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff effective?
  • Are the actions we are taking to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff cost effective, or are there alternatives that could provide the same level of safety and well-being at a lower cost?
  • What are the unintended consequences of actions we are taking to make schools safe?
  • What role can technology play in creating safe schools? What are the positive and negative aspects of using technology for this purpose?
  • Does early identification of students’ mental health needs, coupled with the provision of adequate services, have an impact on school safety?
  • What will be the impact on school safety if every student in a school is connected to a responsible adult?
  • What will be the impact if school safety is improved without addressing community or family safety?
  • What are the key elements of a comprehensive school safety model?
  • What training is required to enable teachers to identify and assess students who need mental health services?

These lists are not exhaustive, but they give applicants a better understanding of the wide range of school safety issues that NIJ would be interested in funding. In addition, NIJ encourages applicants to work with individual schools, school districts, charter schools and tribal schools to identify issues that need further exploration and to develop research programs that produce strong evidence on the most significant school safety issues and topics.

NIJ plans to award multiple grants and a mixture of both large- and small-scale projects under this solicitation. Therefore, applicants are encouraged to submit projects that are beyond the normal scope and dollar amount of NIJ-funded research. Approximately $15 million will be awarded for this solicitation.

Proposals are due by May 20, 2014. Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by September 30, 2014.

Prospective applicants may submit questions to the email address included with the solicitation. To help you respond to this competition for funding, see frequently asked questions.



Greg Ridgeway, Ph.D.
Acting Director
National Institute of Justice

Date Created: April 8, 2014