The list of potential risks and threats a university or college campus may face is quite long and complex. Threat assessment teams can facilitate the process of managing these threats, handling the decision-making process, and developing a supportive and proactive campus culture. Every team should be developed with the goal of keeping the campus safe for all stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, vendors, visitors, and community members.

Defining your team mission

Before appointing anyone to a threat assessment or behavior assessment team, schools should carefully consider the committee mission, purpose, and role and define how the team will function.

Keep in mind that  your team and its mission will evolve over time, just as will the challenges it faces. But overall objectives should be communicated clearly right from the start. Your threat assessment team and campus safety administrators will be assigned the responsibility of developing appropriate processes and procedures that balance student needs with campus safety, regardless of the challenge presented. With the right planning and preparation, your team should be positioned to make sound decisions now and in the future.

Teams tend to function best when composed of a group of perhaps six to eight members. The goal of the team is to offer an interdisciplinary approach, meaning it should include leaders from a range of professional backgrounds, such as a Title IX coordinator, a representative from campus security, a mental health advisor, and so on.

Team members should meet regularly and frequently, perhaps weekly, even if there are no active cases to address. This helps build relationships among team members, ensuring you understand the roles and experience each person brings. As a result, the team will function more effectively, developing trust, collegiality, and willingness to challenge each other in a productive, respectful way.

The role of a threat assessment team

When roles are clearly and appropriately defined, the use of a threat assessment team is typically more legally sound than is relying on strict, bright-line policies. Teams must rely on individual and objective assessments to determine whether an identified threat is a direct threat, whereas a bright-line rule or formal policy will rarely meet this standard.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) recommends teams follow a case-by-case evaluation in order to ensure they are addressing the nuances of the particular situation and the needs of the particular student(s). Implementing a threat assessment team is actually one of the most effective ways of fulfilling the OCR requirements, as the team is responsible for determining a course of action based on the situation at hand. This case management approach can also help improve safety because teams can avoid consequences that will exacerbate students’ feeling of loss, punishment, or need for retribution while still managing the situation.

When a threat assessment team adopts, assesses, and adapts sound and ethical practices, principles, and procedures, it is equipped with the ability and flexibility to respond to a variety of issues without compromising individual student concerns about campus safety.

Reprinted from “How to Build a Threat Assessment Team on Campus,” Campus Law Considered, January 27, 2016. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.