A freshman dorm at the University of Alabama was put on lockdown three days ago after social media posts led the police to believe that there might be someone in the possession of firearms in the building. According to ABC News, a thorough search found no weapons or unauthorized people in the building.
Nonetheless, campus violence remains a serious concern with police departments on campuses around the U.S. and monitoring potential threats such as these can be essential in preventing future violence.
Here at Emory, the Threat Assessment Team (TAT) is equipped to deal with situations such as these. Emory Senior Communications Officer Beverly Clark, wrote in an email to the Wheel that the TAT was formed in the wake of the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. This event marked the deadliest attack by a single gunman in U.S. history.
Clark wrote that the Virginia Tech attack prompted Emory Police Chief Craig Watson “to seek an official team to bring a structured, formalized process to the collaboration already taking place between Emory Police and other campus divisions.”
Watson added that the team definitely pays attention to incidents on other campuses to “review lessons learned and determine how we might apply those lessons to our work.”
The TAT is led by Watson and Amy Adelman, a senior managing attorney in the Emory University Office of the General Counsel. The team meets twice a month and is comprised of representatives from various divisions, including the Division of Campus Life, the Faculty Staff Assistance Program, Human Resources for both the University and Emory Healthcare, Student Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of Communications and Public Affairs.
According to Watson, “the team’s operations enhance inter-departmental communication among the group members, which helps facilitate timely and consistent response by appropriate campus entities.”
Although the team was formed to prevent campus violence, it does not have much authoritative power. According to a Sept. 22 article in the Emory Report, the team exists simply to make recommendations.
Clark commented that generally someone “does not simply ‘snap’ and commit a horrific act of violence.” The goal of the TAT is to gather information about situations of concern and make recommendations on how to manage the situations before they escalate, according to Clark.
The role of the TAT is primarily advisory because, in many circumstances, legal action cannot be taken unless the individual has committed a crime. In trying to preempt a crime, however, often other preventative measures need to be taken. Clark wrote that some examples of preventative actions might involve working with family members to help convince a student in crisis to take a leave of absence or helping an employee to obtain a restraining order against a domestic partner who is engaged in stalking behaviors.
Members of the TAT participate in training to identify warning signs and learn about best practices in threat assessment. This training is interactive and “focuses on interviewing methods and techniques that can aid the team in eliciting information about a person’s potential for violence,” according to Clark.
Examples of situations that the TAT has encountered in the past include students behaving strangely and disruptively in a residence hall, a troubled student posting about weapons on Facebook, a former employee who remained fixated on the University and an unsuccessful applicant who continued very persistent and disturbing communications.
Clark emphasized that their key work is “determining not simply whether someone has made a threat, but whether various factors point to someone posing a threat.”
“We are most concerned about individuals who may have reached a point at which they feel that they have nothing to lose by engaging in an act of violence,” Clark wrote.
College junior Taylor Craig said the TAT “could be a great tool as long as the people on the team are trained and skilled for this job and know what they’re doing … I think it’s a good thing for the school and definitely something that needs to be active on campus.”
Clark encourages students not to “hesitate to bring that concern to Campus Life, Emory Police, Human Resources or other resources such as the Faculty Staff Assistance Program or Counseling and Psychological Services.”
Clark added that in order to be successful, the TAT needs input from across the University. The best way to be proactive in protecting our campus, Clark wrote, is to be observant and share concerns if you see behaviors that worry you.
“I think it’s definitely a good thing to be vigilant, but I’m not sure if it’s going to prevent potential danger or future crimes on campus,” College junior Yimeng Li said.
– By Annie McGrew, Contributing Writer