Research shows that perpetrators of targeted acts of violence engage in both covert and overt behaviors preceding their attacks. They consider, plan, prepare, share, and, in some cases, move on to action.27 One of the most useful tools an IHE can develop to identify, evaluate, and address these troubling signs is a multidisciplinary IHE TAT. A TAT with diverse representation often will operate more efficiently and effectively. TAT members should include IHE administrators, counselors, current employees, medical and mental health professionals, and residential life, public safety, and law enforcement personnel.
The TAT serves as a central convening body that ensures that warning signs observed by multiple people are not considered isolated incidents and do not slip through the cracks as they actually may represent escalating behavior that is a serious concern. IHEs should keep in mind, however, the importance of relying on factual information (including observed behavior) and avoid unfair labeling or stereotyping, to remain in compliance with civil rights and other applicable federal and state laws.
For the purposes of consistency and efficiency, a TAT should be developed and implemented in coordination with IHE policy and practice. In addition, staff already working to identify student and staff needs can be a critical source of information on troubling behavior for a TAT.
The TAT reviews troubling or threatening behavior of current or former students, staff, and parents, or other persons brought to the attention of the TAT. The TAT contemplates a holistic assessment and management strategy that considers the many aspects of the potentially threatening person’s life—academic, residential, work, and social. More than focusing on warning signs or threats alone, the TAT assessment involves a unique overall analysis of changing and relevant behaviors. The TAT takes into consideration, as appropriate, information about behaviors, various kinds of communications, not-yet substantiated information, any threats made, security concerns, family issues, or relationship problems that might involve a troubled individual. The TAT may also identify any potential victims with whom the individual may interact. Once the TAT identifies an individual who may pose a threat, the team will identify a course of action for addressing the situation. The appropriate course of action— whether law enforcement intervention, counseling, or other actions—will depend on the specifics of the situation.
The TAT may also identify any potential victims with whom the individual may interact. TATs are increasingly common in IHE settings, pushed to the forefront of concern following the 2007 shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., where 32 individuals were killed. In some cases, state funding mandates that IHEs create threat assessment teams.28
Law enforcement can help assess reported threats or troubling behavior and reach out to available federal resources as part of the TAT process or separately. The FBI’s behavioral experts in its National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crimes at Quantico, Va., are available on a 24/7 basis to join in any threat assessment analysis and develop threat mitigation strategies for persons of concern. The law enforcement member of the IHE TAT should contact the local FBI office for this behavioral analysis assistance.
Each FBI field office has a NCAVC representative available to work with IHE TATs and coordinate access to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, home to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crimes. It focuses not on how to respond tactically to an active shooter situation but rather on how to prevent one. Early intervention can prevent a situation from escalating by identifying, assessing, and managing the threat. The TAT should consult with its IHE administration and develop a process to seek these additional resources.
Generally, active shooter situations are not motivated by other criminal-related concerns such as monetary gain or gang affiliation. Oftentimes situations may be prevented by identifying, assessing, and managing potential threats. Recognizing these pre-attack warning signs and indicators could help disrupt a potentially tragic event.
27See Threat Assessment Teams: Workplace and School Violence Prevention. http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/february-2010/threat-assessment-teams/
28 See Recommended Practices for Virginia Colleges Threat Assessments, available at http://www.threatassessment.vt.edu/resources/tat_info/VArecommended_practices.pdf