Can a Behavioral Intervention Team Stop the Next School Shooting?
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[Editor’s Note: This article is the first installment in a three-part series about behavioral intervention teams. Read the second article about what behaviors should be reported. Read the third article about how a team responds to low and high level threats.]
By Jon Hager, faculty member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
Before the Virginia Tech shooting, there were very few behavioral intervention teams at colleges and universities. After the devastating incident in 2007, however, recommendations by the Governor’s Panel and others led to a national expansion of these critical teams.
Today, through the use of research and application of theory, the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA) assists colleges and universities by providing resources to help foster a safe environment through prevention and intervention of potentially harmful or dangerous behavior.
What is a Behavioral Intervention Team?
The behavioral intervention team may consist of an array of people from different departments around the college campus such as representatives from student affairs, the police department, veterans affairs, academic affairs, and counselors. The team is often headed by a chair.
The intervention team is proactive and coordinated with a planned approach to identify, assess, and intervene in interpersonal and behavioral threats to the college. For example, if a student observes questionable behavior, the student reports the behavior, and then a risk assessment is performed by the intervention team to determine the level of urgency. All necessary parties are interviewed to understand and resolve the questionable behavior.
Goals of the Behavioral Intervention Team
The presence of a team does not ensure a violent act does not occur on the college campus, but it can greatly reduce the risk. The primary goal of an intervention team is to provide a safe environment for the college or university community. This includes students, staff, faculty, and the wider public. The team focuses on assessing and taking action when an individual is exhibiting concerning behaviors at the lower end of escalation, thus shifting that person’s path away from one of violence. For example, a student may feel that someone is stalking them in the parking lot after class. Even though this may be a perception, the student should report the incident so the intervention team can interview the alleged stalker to assess their behavior. After an assessment, the team will provide a resolution to the person who reported the behavior so they can better understand the situation and the behavior of the alleged stalker.
Creating a Culture of Reporting Questionable Behavior
For an intervention team to be effective, it must be aware of individuals displaying questionable behavior. The team should actively work with administration to create a culture on campus that encourages reporting of such behaviors and makes it clear to everyone how to make a report. College communications are essential for spreading the word about the intervention team and educating the community of its purpose. This can be accomplished by informing student life organizations, reaching out to students at orientation, sending out emails, and advertising the organization on online classroom platforms.
What is Next?
Imagine standing in line to register for classes and you overhear a person talking about shooting someone or bombing a structure. Was the person joking or were they serious? Is this something you should report to the intervention team? What if the person was just joking? In the next article, there will be a discussion on what types of behavior to report and how to report the behaviors.
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 BS in anthropology from Hamline University, an MS 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.
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