Violence prevention is not rocket science; it's quite feasible and the average person can do it with the right training, Dr. Marisa Randazzo, president of Threat Assessment Resources International, told an audience at The University of Texas-Pan American.
UTPA hosted its first campus threat assessment training July 28. The UTPA Police Department, The Department of Environmental Health and Safety, Counseling Services and the Dean of Students Office sponsored the event to train all faculty and staff on how to handle threats of violence such as homicide, suicide, stalking, insider threats and sabotage.
"It's difficult to bring this kind of training to the Valley...it's usually necessary to travel to cities like Houston, San Antonio, Dallas or even out of the state," said Roger Stearns, UTPA chief of police. "So I like the fact that Pan Am was able to step forward in providing excellent training on campus and to other higher education institutions."
Representatives of The University of Texas at Brownsville, South Texas College, Texas A&M University and Texas A&M Corpus Christi were also invited to attend the training.
"This training helped professionals deal with the same campus issues, while providing access to information they might not have access to otherwise," Stearns said.
Randazzo, a former U.S. secret service agent and an expert in violence and threats, covered many topics including the nature and process of targeted violence; guiding principles and best practices; building and operating a multidisciplinary team; and the key steps in the campus threat assessment process.
"If anything I want people to take with them the knowledge of how to identify possible violence early on because the sooner we know, the more resources we can use to intervene, get the right assistance and get them off the path of violence to help them see other options," said Randazzo.
Randazzo said the most important thing faculty, staff and students can do is learn to share information and concerns about other people.
"One of the things many people don't understand about threat assessment or behavioral intervention teams is that this type of resource is used to help people get back on their feet, not get people in trouble," Randazzo said.
UTPA has a "Student Concern Intervention Team," headed by representatives from the UTPA Police Department, Student Judicial Affairs, Substance Abuse Services, Student Health Services, Residence Life and Counseling and Psychological Services and Advisement. Student concern cases and situations that have occurred on campus are reviewed and brought before the team bi-weekly.
"What we want to know and figure out is if the person who has caused concern in one department is also causing concern in other offices," said Lise Blankenship, director of Counseling and Psychological Services and Advisement at UTPA. "It's the collective knowledge that will help prevent a tragedy."
Blankenship said the team is structured to state immediately that it is not intended to be punitive, but to support students who may be struggling. She wants the UTPA community to learn that their intention is to help, not punish.
"If we have an incident reported to us, we can now work through the process using the model that Dr. Randazzo put forth in determining what our next step would be," Blankenship said. "I hope this training will increase the comfort level for the person making the report. We have a report system, but people often don't want to get someone in trouble, so they don't let us know about concerns."
The "Student Concern Intervention Team" is working toward refining their process and continued training for faculty, staff and students on building a safer university campus.
The UTPA Police Department will also continue to lead other crime prevention and educational opportunities such as women self-defense classes, a citizen police academy and a police explorer program, to help spread the word about their campus safety initiatives.
"We hope to do more training for the campus as a whole," Stearns said. "It is difficult to bring this kind of training in, but we will continue to pursue as we find cost affordable opportunities."
For more information on campus safety or to report a concern, contact UTPA Police Department at (956) 665-7151.