Increase in the Frequency and Intensity of Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA™) Cases
J. Kevin Cameron, Executive Director NACTATR / CTIP | December 5, 2022
December has traditionally been an identified Critical Period in VTRA practice. Critical Periods are predictable timeframes for increased threat making and threat-related behaviour. As noted in our earlier communications, the increased frequency and complexity of cases was foreseeable this Fall/Winter due to a significant delayed trauma (stress) response to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. Highlighted in our VTRA trainings this year, is the message that the “the sky is not falling, this was always predictable”. However, due to the increased number of cases, VTRA Leads in schools, partner agencies, and at the community level may need to triage their cases. It may be more manageable and feasible to do more site-specific incident screenings to mitigate initial risk while awaiting consultation from multi-agency partners. This is because most protocol partners are needing to triage their own casework in comparison to pre-pandemic practice.
- There has been a notable increase in young people carrying weapons; in particular, knives.
- There has been a notable increase in the use of weapons; in particular, knives.
- Young people know the truth about what is going on, especially online threats, which has increased fear-generated reasons for carrying weapons for protection.
- Complex VTRAs are being activated with younger children.
- More sexualized behaviors in IOCs are being identified as a risk enhancing dynamic, in all age ranges, including younger children.
- Violence potential among young people age 10 to 13 has increased dramatically and we strongly recommend NOT underreacting to their threats or “cries for help” at this time.
Should a system have two or more converging cases in a short time span consider the following to assist you in triaging cases:
Does your multi-disciplinary VTRA team feel you have the immediate VTRA Team resources to support the IOC (Individual of Concern) and the accompanying threat making dynamics? IF YES, Activate the protocol as per usual and No need to read further!
IF NO, Use the guidelines below.:
Remember the presence of PBA’s (Plausibility, Baseline Change, Attack-Related Behaviours) as the primary screening standard.
- The single most important variable in VTRA is a significant shift in the Baseline Behaviour of an “Individual of Concern” (IOC). Some of our high-risk IOC’s have had high baselines for years but with a sustained level of risk (i.e. a fist fighter but with no increase in baseline). In these cases, we may need to simply continue to monitor and support those individuals while preserving our VTRA resources for cases where there is a high level of dangerousness.
- Along with PBA’s, Dangerousness is now a primary factor for VTRA Teams, who have limited resources, where partner agencies are not able or willing to participate in the case. In these situations, the Site-Specific VTRA Team (e.g. School) should use the following to determine which case will take priority.
If there is a possession of a weapon (or replica) with no accompanying threat, then the site-specific team should do a screening:
- Interview the IOC,
- Confiscate the weapon,
- Check their locker, backpack, jacket, etc. for other weapons or attack-related behaviour,
- Talk with key staff who know the IOC for further data-collection,
- Talk with key students (if necessary) to corroborate IOC claims/story,
- Talk with parents/caregivers (Bedroom Dynamic),
- Determine if further action or monitoring is needed.
BUT, if the weapon is an illegal weapon (i.e. gun, switchblade, etc.) you must activate the Community VTRA protocol and contact police, and other partners as per your established practice.
As well, if there is a high level of dangerousness (lethality) then activate the protocol. For example, a student who plays baseball, with no history of discipline or violence, and communicates an online threat to kill another student at school and shows up brandishing a wooden bat with spikes sticking out, would be considered a high level of dangerousness. TREAT THE BIG THINGS BIG AND THE LITTLE THINGS LITTLE. However, a student who challenges another same-age same-sex peer to a “fight” on the edge of school property may need to be triaged as a site-specific matter even if it is a change in baseline.
The most streamlined schematic for determining dangerousness is JMCC (Justification, Means, Consequences, Conditions) as taught in Level One VTRA training (See Series 1 Questions Stage One Report Form - Details of Incident). Consider the initial data and determine what variables from JMCC are present.
Team identifies the specific data related to the language of the threat used and identifies specific details related to the time, place, location, etc. The more detailed the threat, the more concerned we become. But in particular the team determines if in the IOC’s communications there is clearly stated justification for the threat.
Does the IOC have access to the weapon or are they in possession of the weapon? Is the weapon identified in their threat congruent with the weapon in their possession? Do interviews with peers suggest they may not be in possession of a weapon but can easily access one? The more dangerous the weapon the more likely the team will activate the full Community VTRA protocol or in the case of a gun, automatically call 911.
IOC states, “I know I will go to jail” or “I know I will get suspended” etc.
FLUIDITY. Evidence suggesting suicidal and homicidal ideation (“I don’t care if I live or die”).
RELIGIOUSITY. Has the IOC abandoned their stabilizing belief system(s) and is in a profound state of disequilibrium (i.e. potential trauma-generated risk)?
This is the only risk reducer in JMCC.
Are there any stated conditions that if met could lower or completely mitigate the level of risk? Sometimes an IOC may say “if you post that s..t about me one more time I will shank you…”! This kind of threat is often the best possible case scenario for a dangerous situation because there is an out being given if target stops harassing the IOC. Just the fact the IOC knows we understand and are taking the whole circumstance (threat) seriously is often enough to mitigate initial risk.
ASSESSING PROTECTIVE FACTORS
EMPTY VESSEL (See Series 3 Questions Stage One Report Form) Does the IOC have a healthy mature connection with an adult in their lives? Be mindful that connection must be bi- directional. If they are not connected then you already have an area for intervention!
SENSE OF BELONGING: Does the IOC attend school/workplace regularly?
AGE and STAGE: What is the emotional functioning of the IOC? If the IOC is 17 years of age but functions as a 12-year-old, how does their functioning increase or decrease their protective factors. There are some parentified 12-year-old children, for example, that function more responsibly than some of their 17-year-old peers.
FAMILY/CAREGIVER BASELINE: Is there at least one family member who is actively involved with the VTRA team and following through on the agreed supports. Does the family have informal supports to assist them through to the end of the holidays (extended family, friends, religious/spiritual leaders, in-home agency support, etc.)?
ASSESS AND REASSESS
If the Community VTRA protocol is activated but resources are limited then assign one agency to be the VTRA lead. This is the agency that is the best suited to address the primary risk enhancer in the case at hand. They can then communicate and coordinate any data and support required to support the IOC, on a temporary basis.
This E-Alert is meant to be used as a guide for the month of December 2022, because of the current increase in the frequency and intensity of cases in many VTRA Protocol Regions. We will re-evaluate in the new year and communicate accordingly. However, if a VTRA team is hotly debating whether or not to activate the full Stage One Community VTRA protocol, then end the debate and just do it! Better safe than sorry!
Call if you need us.
Bless your hearts! It has been quite a ride!
J. Kevin Cameron, Executive Director
North American Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response &
Center for Trauma Informed Practices