Threat Assessment Teams: An Invaluable Resource

May 8, 2018 5:20:18 PM

At a recent meeting of our local chapter of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP), I was reminded that as threat assessment professionals, we have been utilizing multidisciplinary teams for almost 25 years in San Diego County. Together, law enforcement, mental health professionals and local court systems have worked effectively on a variety of threat cases. The common goal? Identifying and intervening in stalking, workplace violence, and other cases where risk to workplace, school and public safety has been present.   

Through those 25 years, we have come to understand that the value of having these separate disciplines on a threat assessment team is critical for thoroughly evaluating potential risks and for determining the best strategy to preventing violent incidents.

For example, my role as a forensic and clinical psychologist on a threat assessment team has allowed me to contribute my knowledge and training about mood disorders, obsessions and psychotic states as they might impact judgment, aggressive behavior, and the potential for violence

Similarly, the important role of law enforcement on a team helps assess issues related to violations of local, state and federal laws which may impact our intervention, and the role of legal experts on the team helps us pursue options such as restraining orders for individuals and organizations when they are warranted.

Further, we have honed a team approach by learning over the years how to work together by learning to “speak the language” of other disciplines. For example, a psychologist would not use the term “wobbler.” A wobbler is a crime that may be charged either as a felony or misdemeanor. This distinction is important when investigating crimes such as stalking. Psychologists also do not speak in terms of the Penal Code - it is outside their scope of expertise and not part of their formal academic training.

Conversely, law enforcement professionals would not formally diagnose a potentially violent perpetrator, as that is not part of their formal training.

However, each discipline must learn the other’s language in order to communicate and understand aspects of the threat assessment case holistically and to determine the best course of action based upon all the information provided, utilizing the specific expertise of each team member.

The secret to success for any threat assessment team is respect for each other and the ability to listen to team member’s perspectives. Successful threat assessment teams work together to achieve assessment and intervention goals and bring a level of checks and balances, camaraderie, and synchronicity to help address the safety challenges faced by any organization that has access to this invaluable resource.

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Topics: WPV

Glenn Lipson, Ph.D.

Written by Glenn Lipson, Ph.D.