Threat Assessment Team has had 400 referrals

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | MARCH 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa’s Threat Assessment/Care Team — which deals with people who may be a threat to themselves or others — has responded to at least 400 issues since its inception in 2008.

But the team’s members said the number doesn’t mean the UI campus is unsafe.

“We think of that as a very positive number,” said UI police Lt. Peter Berkson. “[That number of] cases means that people are getting the word out, and that people do trust our service, and that people are talking, which is a good thing.”

The Daily Iowan received the data through a public-records request. No more specific information could be provided.

Officials formed the team — led by Berkson and human-resources consultant Jane Caton — in December 2008 as part of a state Board of Regents Comprehensive Campus Safety and Security Policy. The team has no operational costs because its members are already UI employees.

At least 10 of the UI’s 13 peer institutions are listed as having Threat Assessment Teams.

“I think 400 is a small number for the number of people on this campus,” Caton said. “With students, staff, faculty, and visitors, we’d be more worried if there was a lower number of calls.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison spokesman John Lucas said the school’s Threat Assessment Team has met about 150 times since its creation in 2007. However, specific threats are not discussed at all of these meetings.

Since starting the UI team, Berkson said he and Caton have handled cases that “go the gamut,” ranging from legal and mental-health issues to substance abuse and self-harm concerns.

Berkson said it’s difficult to say which issues are addressed most often and who reports them most frequently.

Once the team receives a report, Caton, a licensed independent social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor, and Berkson respond as a unit as soon as possible — often within 24 hours.

After receiving a report, the two review and identify the subject of concern, collect available information, and interview subjects of concern as appropriate — be it over the phone or in person.

Then, the team assesses whether the subject is an imminent threat to her- or himself or to others and takes appropriate action, which ranges from referring the person to a different department to facilitating meetings with UI staff regarding the situation.

“Our goal is not to arrest people or get people kicked out of school,” Berkson said. “Our goal is to address the situation so it works out best for them and the university community. We like to intervene and de-escalate things before things become worse.”

And although success can be difficult to measure, experts said it’s best to compare a team’s caseload with the number of violent incidents on campus.

“It’s a tough problem to measure because when a Threat Assessment Team is working well, you’re going to hear about very little if any problems of violence,” said Marisa Randazzo, managing partner at Sigma Threat Management Associates. “We don’t know what would have happened if a team hadn’t intervened.”

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