Reporting: The Cornerstone of Threat Assessment

Several high profile tragedies on college campuses have led to the development of behavioral threat assessment processes.

Reporting: The Cornerstone of Threat Assessment

Willingness to report a threat is both the cornerstone and the Achilles' heel of the campus threat assessment process.

In The Difference Between a Behavioral Intervention Team and a Threat Assessment Team, we discussed the importance of having a single process to address the behaviors and actions of potential terrorists. Before this process takes place, however, the concerning behavior must be reported to the appropriate campus authorities. Individuals making those reports could be students, faculty, staff or other members of the campus community. The November 2016 terrorist attack at Ohio State University demonstrates how the reporting process is key, but also imperfect.

A recently released series of email messages between the OSU terrorist attacker, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, and his academic advisor shows a gap in the school’s threat assessment process.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that Artan, a first-semester student, was concerned with failing grades and losing financial aid. He asked his academic advisor to drop his classes two weeks before driving a vehicle into a crowd on campus and then stabbing fellow students, faculty and staff.

The reply from the advisor was that “Abdul is feeling unmotivated right now … he’s feeling unmotivated in his current classes.” Consequently, Artan replied that he was staying in school, but might or might not attend some classes.

Standing alone, this simple email exchange raises no red flags. Yet given the totality of circumstances, even with hindsight, it begs the question as to what else might have been known or shared about Artan’s mental state with others. Who else might he have confided in on campus? A professor? A friend?

Following violent incidents, acquaintances, family members and co-workers often recall that something was just not right with the person responsible, but no one thought to tell this to someone in an official position.

The cornerstone and at the same time the Achilles’ heel of the campus threat assessment process is the willingness to report if something might be amiss.

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