7:39 p.m. PST December 5, 2015
In 2007, after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech University, leaders at Chemeketa Community College realized they were not as well-prepared as they wanted to be.
In fact, staff wanted not only to be prepared to respond to such an event, but to find ways to prevent it.
“At the time, we had no formal method of evaluating threats or behavior,” said Bill Kohlmeyer, who worked for the Salem Police Department for 30 years before becoming Chemeketa’s director of public safety. “The dean of students and I would meet and discuss issues and decide on a plan of action. It was just the two of us involved in the process.”
Kohlmeyer and others at the school expanded the school’s safety plan to include a broader group of people, and have created a program that is getting interest from public safety groups in other states, and even other countries. There’s so much interest, the school is starting a series of online classes.
The program, called Threat Management Resources, starts in January. It will be a certificate program, beginning with six classes in its first term, including Fundamentals of Threat Assessment, Behavioral and Mental Health, and Cyber Investigation.
The program will teach people how to create a threat assessment team, understand the ethical and legal implications of such a team, prevent, mitigate and respond to workplace violence, and implement and evaluate an emergency response plan.
It also will provide training in active-shooter response, safety for places of worship, and trauma response. The classes are intended for anyone responsible for threat prevention, such as police officers, lawyers and human resource directors.
Since word of the program spread, people from around the world, from Canada to Kenya, have shown interest. Program director Rebecca Bolante said even Scotland Yard has reached out to her.
The program is focused on behavioral threat assessment: how to evaluate the behaviors of an individual to see if they indicate a propensity for violence.
Since creating the new threat assessment team nearly seven years ago, Chemeketa has been able to better observe individuals and prevent threats, whether those threats might have led to harming students and staff, or harming the individual in question.
“It is nearly impossible to document or measure something that doesn’t happen, and if threat assessment is working, nothing happens,” Kohlmeyer said. “That’s our goal: nothing happening.
“I believe we have identified and managed some situations that had the potential to be very serious.”
Program director Bolante, who is also an instructor for the program, wrote her dissertation on threat assessment at community colleges and has spent 12 years at Chemeketa.
Bolante said experts have been noticing for years that many individuals who have committed large acts of violence showed signs of “leakage.”
Leakage, or advance indicators of targeted violence, can be anything from threatening writing samples to aggressive YouTube posts.
Lt. David Okada of the Salem Police Department has been working in threat assessment for more than 15 years.
He compared behavioral assessment to the Homeland Security initiative: “If you see something, say something.”
This initiative relies on the input of everyone in a community — neighbors, teachers, administrators, police officers — to report unusual or suspicious activity or circumstances in the community.
“We are looking for behaviors of concern,” he said. “Then, we can regulate those behaviors and divert people from a pathway of violence.”
Like Bolante, Okada said many attackers expressed ideas of self-harm before they attacked.
Bolante said this is one of hundreds of behaviors threat assessors are keeping an eye out for.
In years past, profiling was thought to be the best practice, at Chemeketa and schools nationwide.
This newest method emphasizes the importance of teams to gather information about individuals and their circumstances. Are they from an abusive household? Have they expressed a desire to harm themselves or others in the past? Have multiple people reported suspicious behavior of this individual?
Once threat assessors have identified an individual of concern, they assess the actions and circumstances.
The team provides things such as counseling services if the person is struggling with depression or anxiety, financial aid advisers if the core of the problem is lack of money, and much more.
The strategies Chemeketa put into place in 2008 were based on training and principles from the Salem-Keizer Student Threat Assessment Team and the Willamette Valley Adult Advisory Team.
In 2013, the Salem-Keizer School District ranked among top cities in the world for student threat assessment, Bolante said, particularly because of the Salem-Keizer Student Threat Assessment Team for K-12 education. The rankings come from researchers at the Free University of Berlin in Germany.
Greg Harris, a spokesperson for Chemeketa, said previous shootings at other colleges have made Chemeketa want to do more for their students’ safety.
“Umpqua really rattled our cages,” Harris said. “Many realized, ‘Wow, it could really happen to us.'”
“There is documented evidence that we can prevent targeted violence,” Bolante said.
For example, in 2003, three researchers reviewed 221 studies of school-based interventions for aggressive or disruptive behavior by students, and found that “well-implemented … programs are highly effective” at identifying individuals who pose a threat to their community and mitigating the situation before a threat was carried out.
This was cited in “The Virginia Model of Student Threat Assessment” by Dewey G. Cornell, forensic clinical psychologist and education professor at the University of Virginia.
“No one can guarantee they can prevent acts of targeted violence,” Kohlmeyer said. “But training on identifying red flags and ideas for managing situations will hopefully have positive results and nothing will happen.”
npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate
Register for the course
Registration begins Dec. 8 and is available to anyone interested. The program can support 30 students per class in its first term.
Each class is 3 credit hours and costs $495.
To enroll or get more information, call (503) 399-2555 or visit www.chemeketa.edu/programs/threat_management.