So, You Want To Be A Threat Assessment Manager?
If you are starting a behavioral threat assessment unit, here are seven strategies that have worked for me so far.
“Someone is threatening to shoot up the school!” are words that professionals in a behavioral threat assessment role likely anticipate hearing at some point in their career. That moment became a reality for me within the first three weeks on the job.
The role of a threat assessment manager was both new to our police department and new to me. I am trained in psychology with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in the field. My path to this position was not direct but came after spending nearly a decade as a behavioral analyst and another decade in vocational ministry (where I also practiced analytics). I joined my police department because the chief had seen my work and asked me to lead his department’s first behavioral threat assessment unit. Prior to my arrival, it was a secondary function of the department’s criminal investigations unit.
So, here’s some thoughts based on my first six months:
1. You’ve got to start somewhere.
Despite my academic and work experience, along with two decades of training and research, I was quickly reminded that I don’t know what I don’t know. In the six months I have been on the job, and 30 threat assessments later, I can tell you a lot of life has been lived and a lot of lessons have been learned during this trial-by-fire. I am grateful for the police officers, civilian practitioners, and other community leaders who have offered mentorship and guidance along the way. I have so much more to learn, but I hope by sharing a glimpse into this origin story, perhaps it will help others begin their careers in this vital and growing profession knowing that “you’ve got to start somewhere.”
A former boss of mine used to say this phrase all the time. Whether going back to the gym after a hiatus, or starting up a new endeavor, we must begin to move forward. Most of the time, unless you are some kind of prodigy, we are not good at whatever we start because we do not have the experience needed to generalize what we have learned. However, the obvious solution to gaining experience is to simply begin. Get out there. Do the hard things. Learn everything you can from people with the experience you lack and know that mistakes are inevitable. Be humble and stay hungry. It is all a necessary part of the growing process.
2. Stay curious.
Approach each situation with an open mind. Based upon our own experiences, biases, and seemingly obvious facts, we will often walk into situations with presuppositions. I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. One of the quotes I have hanging in my office says “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” All too many times, I catch myself in confirmation bias mode and must deliberately adjust my mindset. Stay curious. Things may not always be as they seem.
3. Build your threat assessment team.
We all specialize in something and have unique and invaluable giftedness, but none of us are good at everything, which makes a multi-disciplinary team vital. A seasoned colleague of mine gave me a crash course in all things behavioral threat assessment and management (BTAM) after just two weeks in this role. He said my No. 1 priority was to build a team. Surrounding yourself with experts in law enforcement, counseling, and other disciplines will provide a dynamic forum to discuss the details of each threat assessment with those whose knowledge and experience differ from yours. Behavioral threat assessment is not a solo act. Rather, it is a well-tuned orchestra.
4. Start with ‘How are you doing?’
In the same conversation with that seasoned colleague, he said that if I took away this one phrase, I am already on the right track. He advised that as a behavioral threat assessment manager, the first thing I should do when I speak with a subject of concern is ask them, “How are you doing?” He said that in his experience, most of the time, the subject of concern says something like, “You are the first person to ask me that.” There is such extraordinary value in taking time to sit with someone, to be genuinely curious about their story, and to listen with the intent to better understand what is happening in their world. Giving someone space to share while being an attuned listener and showing compassion and empathy can be a person’s first step towards de-escalating from the pathway to violence. It is not my intention to oversimplify what that process looks like, but asking this simple question is a great place to start to better understand how they got where they are.
5. Be willing to review ‘game film.’
No, behavioral threat assessment is not a game, but professionals in this field can learn from the way elite athletes prepare for their engagements. The lesson here is to be coachable, to be eager to grow, and always seek to become better. I am thankful that early in my career as a behavior analyst, a former supervisor of mine had me bring a camcorder and tripod to my sessions to record myself. I would later meet with him to review the footage and self-critique what went well and what needed to improve. I remember sitting in my car afterward feeling like I might not be cut out for this kind of thing, but he later reminded me, it is not about me. Today, I wear a body-worn camera and record all my interviews. Being able to go back and watch camera footage helps me learn where I can improve, as well as affirm where I did well. It also allows me to see things I may have missed in the live version of an interview. Regardless of the outcome of the case, you can always find things to improve.
6. Take care of your own mental health.
Being called out to talk with a subject of concern experiencing suicidal or homicidal ideation or listening to the stories of what led a person to the point of crisis can be incredibly heavy. Building rhythms of rest and self-care into your daily routine is such an important piece of making sure you can give your best when it is needed. What gives you joy? What energizes you? Well, do these things, and do them often. Be present with the people you love. Do what you can to disconnect. Find reasons to celebrate the victories, no matter how small. Your mental health matters and you must be purposeful in its care.
7. Find your people.
Lastly, in the moments when I felt stuck, unsure, or at a complete loss, it was the community of colleagues and friends who answered my calls at all hours of night to offer wisdom and guidance who helped me keep going. Get involved in whatever networking you can. Ask questions. I was blown away at how willing people were to speak with me, even well-known leaders in our field. It is the dear friends in my life who showed up in all the ways I needed and gave me space to process the emotions of the day that helped me offload some of the weight I was carrying. It is my community that holds me up when I am weary and encourages me to be my best self so that I can contribute to the efforts of keeping my community safe. So, find your people, and hold them close.
The first six months of my career as a behavioral threat assessment manager have been memorable. I hope the things I learned help encourage others who have joined or are thinking about joining this field. The work is noble, worthy, and needed. I am blessed to be of service to my community in this way.
Karlye Louritt, MS/P serves as the Behavioral Threat Assessment Manager for the Lone Star College System Police Department. The Lone Star College community consists of over 100,000 students and staff across 22 campuses in the northern Houston metro area. Karlye can be reached at LSC-PoliceBTAU@lonestar.edu.
Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.
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