Penn State's behavioral threat assessment initiatives see enhancements

As part of the ongoing effort to promote the safety and well-being of everyone in the University community, Penn State has announced an enhancement to existing behavioral threat assessment initiatives through the formation of a centralized behavioral threat assessment and management team. The team provides students, faculty and staff with a single place to bring their concerns if a fellow student, colleague or visitor to the University exhibits behavior that is unusual or threatening. 

First and foremost, the effort is about safety at Penn State, said Steve Shelow, assistant vice president for Police and Public Safety and chair of the team. He said the entire University community has a shared responsibility to maintain that safety and to report concerns when they arise.

“It’s not just the police or Student Affairs or Counseling and Psychological Services who owns responsibility for our safety -- all of us do,” he said. “For faculty, staff and students who aren’t sure what to do if they spot odd, unusual or threatening behavior, we want to make it clear that concerns should be brought to us.”

Comprised of 11 representatives from a broad cross-section of administrative units, the team is working to further enhance robust protocols that already are in place at Penn State to address concerns about people who may harm themselves or others, and to increase awareness in the University community about warning signs that a student or colleague may need help.

No single factor ever is an indicator that a person may become violent. The goal of Penn State’s existing behavioral threat assessment protocols, and the team’s goal moving forward, is to determine whether or not a person may be on a pathway toward violence by considering the sum of an individual’s behaviors, including:

-- Preoccupation with violence: boasts, predictions and subtle threats; stories, essays, poems and pictures; violent fantasies; interest in violent games, movies and books
-- Depression, anger; impulsive and uncontrollable behavior
-- Poor coping skills
-- Low frustration tolerance
-- Grudges, lack of resiliency
-- "Us-against-them" mentality; narcissism
-- Boastful about weapons; abusive language
-- Suicidal thoughts; wishes of death; desire to kill others
-- Delusions; hallucinations; bizarre thoughts
-- History of physical assault
-- Bullying (perpetrator or victim)
-- Substance abuse
-- Rebellion against authority
-- Isolation or withdrawal

Shelow said it is a combination of these factors that will determine how the team constructs management plans for each individual case, and ultimately whether and how they decide to intervene and offer an individual assistance. The key for the team, he said, is to quickly and accurately assemble information about an individual when a report of concern is received.

“The entire process is nonadversarial and can be critical to deterring violence,” Shelow said. “We’re trying to provide the resources, the coordination and the support needed to ensure that every member of the community has a successful experience at Penn State free from fear for their safety or for the safety of others.”

The team includes representatives from the Graduate School, Undergraduate Education, the Office of the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses, University Police, Student Affairs, Residence Life, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of Human Resources, the Office of Affirmative Action, and the University’s Office of General Counsel.

“The broad representation on the team is crucial to our ability to effectively connect-the-dots when a concern is brought to our attention,” Shelow said. “It is our goal to ensure that there is proper communication occurring within the institution as we work to respond to behaviors that appear to be odd, unusual or threatening.”

Shelow said it is the responsibility of members of the Penn State community to get in touch if they have concerns about their own safety or the safety of those around them. The process is confidential, and reporting a concern can lead to positive outcomes for everyone involved, he said.

Immediate concerns about campus safety always should be directed to campus police, by dialing 911 or 814-863-1111. Those who wish to get in touch with the team can do so through multiple channels, including by email at btmt@psu.edu, by phone any time at 814-863-BTMT (2868), or in person at 30 Eisenhower Parking Deck. For more information about the team, or to report a concern online, visit http://btmt.psu.edu/.

To read a letter to the Penn State community about the University's Behavioral Threat Management Team, visit http://www.psu.edu/ur/2012/btmt.pdf.

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Last Updated January 17, 2012