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By Jon Hager, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
[Editor’s Note: This article is the final installment in a three-part series about behavioral intervention teams. Read the first article about the goals and structure of a team. Read the second article about what behaviors should be reported.]
To keep college and university campuses safe, behavioral intervention teams must have a system for reviewing and assessing reports of individuals exhibiting concerning behavior. Once the intervention team receives a report, the chair of the team will initiate a preliminary meeting. During this meeting, the team will assess the information using a threat assessment tool. Threat levels can be classed as low or high.
If the threat is determined to be low, a member of the team will be assigned as a case manager who is responsible for further investigation of the concern. Their investigation may include searching the school’s database to determine if there have been other reports involving the person in question. The case manager may also review the person’s history of interactions with student affairs, academic affairs, or campus police. They will also often conduct interviews directly with the subject, the complainant and/or victim, professors, and any other relevant staff or students.
If the intervention team determines a high-threat situation, immediate action will be taken. There are two distinct situations that require immediate action. The first is when an individual is going through a personal crisis such as an attempted suicide or has active suicide ideations. In such incidences, the team may determine the best course of action to help the individual is to take them to the college counseling center or directly to the hospital. The team will also work with other university departments to notify their parents or loved ones to assist in getting the individual immediate help.
The second high-threat situation requiring immediate action is a critical incident where the safety of others is determined to be at risk. For example, when an individual communicates explicitly that they are going to shoot or bomb the college. Response to a critical incident would be handled directly by the college police department or local law enforcement authorities. The intervention team’s responsibility is to share all the information they have about the situation with law enforcement so officers can take appropriate and immediate action.
Deciding on What Action to Take
The action an intervention team decides to take based on the threat level can vary widely and is heavily dependent on the specifics of a situation. For example, the best course of action may be to simply interview the person of concern about the reported situation. Learning more from their perspective could lead the case manager to determine the situation was just a misunderstanding. In my experience, talking to the person of concern and bringing the behavior to their attention is often enough to change their behavior.
In other cases, talking to the person could unearth some other indications that he or she needs help. For example, the concerning behavior may actually be the result of some underlying distress from being hungry, homeless, involved in a domestic violence situation, or struggling with drug abuse. Whatever the underlying issue is, the case manager can provide referrals to other resources such as food pantries, homeless shelters for victims of domestic violence, or outside counseling services.
Following Up with Reports
It is critical that the behavioral intervention team meet regularly—about every two weeks—to follow up on previous reports. At each meeting, the cases submitted in the last meeting are reviewed to ensure appropriate action was taken to remedy concerning situations. Case managers provide information about the progress of their cases and request input from other team members about additional resources or actions to assist persons of concern. Meeting regularly to discuss cases helps ensure each person of concern is being helped and that no cases are being overlooked or dismissed without proper investigation.
About the Author: Jon Hager has worked in the criminal justice field since 2000 in the capacity of private fire investigations, autopsy technician, and as a medical examiner investigator and a forensic science professor. Jon obtained a B.S. in anthropology from Hamline University, a M.S. in forensic science from the University of New Haven and a doctorate in psychology with a concentration in criminal justice from the University of the Rockies. Jon is currently an adjunct professor of criminal justice at American Military University. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.