Pennsylvania Governor's Office of Homeland Security's Community Anti Threat Team (CATT) Held it's Quarterly Training

February 24, 2024

The Collaboratory Against Hate (CAH) attended the Pennsylvania Governor's Office of Homeland Security's Community Anti Threat Team's (CATT) quarterly training on Tuesday, January 30, 2024. As part of the mission to help mitigate and better understand targeted violence stemming from group hate, CAH is embarking on a partnership with federal/regional law enforcement, mental health experts and other universities in the state to advocate for support on broader statewide efforts to protect our communities from the next acts of violence.

Steve Crimando, Director of Training for the Disaster & Terrorism Branch in the New Jersey Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, delivered the training on a model for assessing threat called "The Pathway to Violence: Key Concepts in Behavioral Threat Assessment & Management (BTAM)." This model is mostly based on the FBI's Making Prevention a Reality: Identifying, Assessing, and Managing the Threat of Targeted Attacks, an open source report available on plus other reports from the US Department of Homeland Security, Association of Threat Assessment Professionals and US Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center.

Crimando described two types of targeted violence: 1) Affective violence which is reactive, impulsive, emotional in response to a perceived threat, the evolutionary basis being self-defense or to self-protect and 2) Predatory violence which is pre-meditated and absent of autonomic arousal and emotion, and involved planning and preparation. "Affective violence is about the perpetrator losing control whereas predatory violence is about taking control," according to Crimando.

The purpose of the training was to provide an understanding of the Pathway to Intended Violence (PIV), a model developed by Calhoun and Weston in 2003,  utilized today by the US Department of Homeland Security, and advocated by the FBI in the report, Making Prevention a Reality. The pathway consists of:

Pre-operational phases: personal grievance and ideation

Operational phases: research/planning, preparation for violence, probing/breaching, attack

In the photo shown, the arrows are heading left and right to demonstrate that de-escalation and escalation are possible and that these concepts are not necessarily carried out in sequential order. "What is predictable is preventable," as Crimando quoted Gordon Graham, a retired California Highway Patrol captain, attorney, and risk manager, who is often quoted in law enforcement circles.

Another key aspect of the training came from a study by The Violence Project, funded by the US Department of Justice, that spent two years building a database of mass shooters who shot and killed 4 or more people in a public space, as well as every shooting incident at school, work places, and places of worship since 1999. "While no clear profile emerged from the study, the data revealed 4 commonalities among mass shooters:

  • The vast majority of mass shooters experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.
  • Every mass shooter studied had reached an identifiable crisis point in the months or weeks leading up to the shooting.
  • Most of the shooters were obsessed with and studied the actions of other shooters.
  • All of the shooters had the means to carry out their plans."

Crimando emphasized the importance of threat assessors to determine where a person of concern is on this pathway to violence. He spoke about how mental health/wellness versus mental illness is a major contributing factor to potential targeted violence. He stated that "people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else in the general population." In a sample of mass shooters, in 62 percent of cases the person of concern struggled with mental health in a way that contributes to risk.

The next portion of the training focused on what threat assessors must be aware of. This includes an awareness of mental health trends. Post pandemic, it is estimated that 1 in 4 people, or 26.4% of the US population suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. This is versus 1 in 5 prior to the pandemic. Also, it is predicted taht mental health and substance abuse will soon surpass physical diseases as a cause of disability worldwide according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"Violence is a process, not an event. When we think of targeted violence, it is not someone who snaps. It is someone who, over time, moves along the pathway toward the violent act. What we are trying to do is create an effective and safe off-ramp," Crimando stated.

Threat assessors must also be aware of environmental factors that might affect persons of concern, i.e. political conflicts, wars, crises in the world. "Distress and dysfunction, in certain vulnerable individuals, may lead to increased risk for harm to self or others." He outlined examples of the early, escalating and late-stage risk factors expressed by individuals of concern. This listing of various risk factors were distinguished from behavioral threats.

Behavioral threat assessment and management was described as providing "a systematic, evidence-based approach toward identifying individuals who pose a threat, intervening with appropriate resources and ultimately improving the safety and well-being of the individual of concern, the situation and involved organizations." The process of threat assessment is fact-based, deductive, dynamic and responsive to the nature and process of the threatening situation. And the goal of threat assessment is to determine if the person of concern poses a threat of violence to others, to themselves or possibly to both themselves and others. In cases where the person of concern does pose a threat of violence, the goal at that point is to implement a strategy to reduce the threat that is posed.

While threat assessment is concerned with the risk of violence, it also has a behavioral and observational focus. It is not an adversarial process, and it is most effective when not framed and approached as adversarial. "Threat assessment identifies the concerns and underlying factors that are causing or contributing to the troubling situation, ways to address those factors and concerns, interventions if necessary, and improvements for the overall safety of people and the situation."

Crimando concluded the training with an explanation of the warning behaviors of persons of concern into two types: "proximal warning behaviors" and "distal characteristics." Proximal warning behaviors were compared to a tornado warning that is imminent; some of these behaviors include fixation, leakage or disclosure of the harm to be created, identification as a warrior. Distal characteristics were compared to conditions that would be favorable for tornado development, but not imminent. These characteristics include personal grievance or moral outrage, dependence on the virtual community, rejection by an extremist group. He provided case study examples of these warning behaviors such as in the cases of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing, Anders Breivik known for the 2011 Norway attacks, and Michael McDermott who shot and killed 7 co-workers at Edgewater Technology in Massachusetts.  

For more information about this training, visit the January 2024 Community Anti-Threat Team (CATT) Quarterly Training.

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