Developing a Threat Assessment Team

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte has created a Campus Behavioral Intervention Team, which meets weekly and involves legal affairs, residence life, student contact and other administrators to evaluate reports of concerning student behavior.

Creating a campus environment that is as safe as possible while maintaining a welcoming atmosphere is a goal for all institutions of higher education. However, there are times that the unusual or threatening actions of individuals will make the campus community uneasy. These individuals can be disruptive in the classroom and throughout the community, and recent highly publicized incidents have proven the importance of building programs and strategies that serve to protect students, staff and faculty. 

The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte has created a model that implements a multi-disciplinary and strategic approach to the assessment and management of situations involving students. UNC Charlotte’s Campus Behavioral Intervention Team (CBIT) has been involved in numerous cases since its inception in 2008 following a recommendation from the UNC presidential task force — with support from other administrators — that campuses create a system-wide approach to campus threat assessment.

At UNC Charlotte, an all-encompassing NinerCare Network (http://ninercare.uncc.edu) was also created to ensure the recommendations and/or initiation of appropriate intervention strategies, as well as the training and development of awareness of behavioral concerns and other matters to the campus community.

Team Should Include Wide Variety of Stakeholders

CBIT (see UNC Charlotte’s CBIT Members on this page) meets once every week during the regular school year, and at times the meetings extend far beyond the planned one and a half hour schedule. A reporting system that is used by administrators, faculty, law enforcement and other campus officials provides information on student conduct and is generally the reporting mechanism that creates the discussion surrounding the signs and symptoms for students of concern. Those signs include erratic, disruptive, violent, harmful or concerning behavior.  While much of this behavior can be attributed to other causes, our team will focus on what we believe needs intervention first and how that can be most productive.

The vast experience of the team and the breadth of specific disciplines adds critical dialog to the evaluation of a particular student. The debate is always productive and brings about thoughtful prognosis when the reason surrounding the dysfunction can be applicable to numerous causes. The team may also involve outside medical assistance with various intervention techniques that could include voluntary/involuntary commitment. 

CBIT also determines when the resolution may include involuntary withdrawal procedures. This is a topic that will be addressed in Part II of our continuing discussion on campus threat assessments, which will appear in an upcoming issue of Campus Safety.

Got a Threat? Talk to Legal Counsel

Another critical phase is when the actions of a student are deemed a threat. This of course involves a high level of input from the police department and needs to be managed in a fairly swift manner. The main goal is always to protect the student population and at the same time ensure that university policy is followed. 

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Although this phase involves a fair amount of work from the police department, the input from legal counsel is critical to a successful resolution. Many times a student can be deemed a threat but there may not be a criminal violation, per say. This requires skillful intervention that could include the involuntary commitment of a subject at a local mental health facility.  It can be difficult and requires skilled collaboration between local mental health professionals and the counseling center on campus.  Again, the UNC Charlotte counseling center maintains a high degree of collaboration with mental health professionals throughout the Charlotte region.

It’s equally important to note that an arrest does not insulate a campus nor does it ensure that a subject will receive medical help. The condition and the offense by which a student has been arrested will determine how long they will be incarcerated. A person needing mental health assistance could easily be released on bond, and you could find them right back on campus. This is, of course, a major concern throughout the nation as we continue the debate on how we manage the mentally ill. 

Students Who Have Been Removed Pose Challenges

We have a series of protocols that follow situations like these that include notifying local law enforcement agencies about students who have been deemed a threat. What happens to that information and how it is disseminated and utilized is another subject of concern and dialog.

The question has often been asked about how a jurisdiction manages a student who has been removed from a campus community and released to the local municipality. These are difficult questions, and how they are resolved may be even tougher. We have already seen the fallout from incidents that have occurred in America and the attempts to place blame.  Police departments should give careful thought to the manner in which jurisdictions are notified and the documentation that supports it.

The UNC Charlotte Criminal Investigations Bureau maintains all of the documents related to specifically who is contacted during these notifications and a receipt to confirm the information was received. We continually review our intelligence investigative process at the department and pay close attention to issues occurring throughout the nation.

Reporting System Improves Campus Security

The UNC Charlotte NinerCare is a network designed to bring together information in order to identify students who have demonstrated concerning behavior; investigate reports to determine if an identified student poses a potential threat to self, others or the UNC Charlotte community; and develop an objective, coordinated action plan to collect information, assist the student and protect the university community. The reporting system described above ensures that key members of the campus community receive critical information that relates to incidents involving students to include all CBIT members.

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Jeff Baker is UNC Charlotte’s chief of police. Part 2 of this article will appear in an upcoming issue of Campus Safety magazine and on CampusSafetyMagazine.com.

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