Tufts Threat Assessment Management continues effort in preventing violence on campus

The Tufts University Police Department is responsible for incident-based violence. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

One year after its launch last fall, the Tufts Threat Assessment and Management (TTAM) program remains dedicated to supporting Tufts’ violence free university policy statement, which maintains that members of the Tufts community should be able to learn, work and live on campus without threat of violence or intimidation. 

TTAM was created to identify, evaluate and address potentially threatening situations affecting members of the Tufts community, to intervene in those situations, to get help for the person causing concern and to lessen the likelihood of targeted violence coming to Tufts campuses, according to Director of Public and Environmental Safety Kevin Maguire, who serves as chairperson of the Medford/Somerville TTAM team.

Perah Kessman, case manager for TTAM, explained that the program is non-adversarial and separate from Tufts University Police Department (TUPD). The mission of TTAM is to determine if someone needs assistance and to then connect them with resources and help, according to Kessman.

“It’s not a punitive relationship that we’re trying to develop with folks,” she said. “They come to our attention because people are concerned about them, not because they want to see them get in trouble. That’s not what we do, we don’t get students in trouble.”

TUPD handles incident-based activity, while TTAM prevents violence by addressing threatening behavior in an analytical and systematic way, Maguire explained.

Although unable to discuss specific instances because of confidentiality, Kessman said that there are a wide array of behaviors that are worthy of TTAM’s attention, including behavior that is seen as potentially threatening or overtly threatening.

“For example, if a student was unhappy with their academic standing, or if they were worried that they were going to lose academic standing, they might have said something to a faculty member like you know, ‘You’ll be sorry if I don’t get the grade that I want,’ or ‘You better watch yourself if I don’t pass this exam,’” she explained.

The threat assessment process begins with a member of the Tufts community submitting a report to TTAM through one of four different mechanisms, Kessman added.

One option for the concerned party is to call TUPD, who would then contact TTAM, she said. Another choice is for people to go online to ethicspoint.com, where there is an option to file a report anonymously. The third option is to send an email to the threat assessment e-list and a fourth option is to consult directly with a TTAM team member.

According to Maguire, the reporting process for TTAM cases is separated into two distinct classifications: what to do in emergencies and what to do in non-emergencies. In an emergency, an individual should get to a safe place, call TUPD and inform them of the details of the situation and safely notify others who might be in danger. In non-emergencies — if an individual becomes aware of a situation that he or she believes may pose a threat to the safety of the community or a community member — he or she should contact TTAM, Maguire said.

According to Kessman, when the TTAM team becomes aware of a threat, it begins a triage, or evaluation, process to determine if it is a TTAM-relevant case. If the team decides that it is in fact TTAM-relevant, then it will determine if there is an immediate threat posed, which would warrant a TUPD response.

“We meet as a team every step of the way to discuss the concerns that have arisen, information that we’ve collected and our plan,” she said. “So those are sort of our main tasks or stages of the process: identify the person, conduct the triage. Once we conduct [the triage] we’ll determine if we’re going to pursue a full investigation, and once the investigation has been completed, we’ll meet again to determine what action steps we need to take.”

The action taken after the investigation has been completed is case-dependent, Kessman said, adding that often the TTAM team will connect the person brought to its attention with exterior support and services. 

“If the assessment team has determined that [an] individual is on a pathway to violence, the team takes steps to interrupt that pathway,” Maguire told the Daily in an email. “The teams continues to monitor progress of community members of concern, taking action if the person of concern begins to act out in similar fashion.”

In those cases, the TTAM team often develops an agreement with the person to engage in outside services, such as group therapy or individual counseling, Kessman explained.

Members of the TTAM team come from all areas of the university, including most major working departments at Tufts, as well as their faculty and staff, according to Maguire.

He added that the interdepartmental composition of the teams is intended to break down the bureaucratic silos that form within complex organizations and facilitate information sharing and the assessment of community members of concern.