De-escalating Dangerous & Threatening

Dr. Brian Van Brunt
Laura Bennett, M.Ed.
Director of Counseling WKU
Student Conduct Officer at Harper
[email protected]
[email protected]
Danger and Crisis
Prevention and Backup
How to Use the BIT
How to Motivate and Persuade
Five Steps to Manage Aggression
• Welcome to the first of a three part series addressing
student behavior in and out of the classroom:
(1) Dangerous
(2) Disruptive
(3) Distracting/Annoying
• Through a series of case scenarios and practical
advice, we will share with you useful tools needed to
identify, intervene and manage potentially dangerous
and violent students at your college or university.
Dangerous Physical Behaviors:
Physical assault such as pushing, shoving or punching
Throwing objects or slamming doors
Storming out of the classroom or office when upset
Self-injurious behavior such as cutting or burning self
during class
• Prolonged non-verbal passive aggressive behavior such as
sitting with arms crossed, glaring or staring at professor
• Refusing to engage in conversation or follow instructions
• Stalking or harassing behaviors – following with intent
and effect of intimidation
Dangerous Communications:
• Conversations that are designed to upset other students
such as descriptions of weapons, killing or death
• Direct communicated threat to professor, staff or another
student such as: “I am going to kick your ass” or “If you
say that again, I will end you.”
• Bullying comments focused on campus community
Possibly Dangerous Communications:
• Psychotic, delusional or rambling speech
• Arrogant, entitled, rude or disrespectful talk to professor,
staff or other students.
• Racist or otherwise fixated thoughts such as “Women
should be barefoot and pregnant”, “Gays are an
abomination to God and should be punished”, “Muslims
are all terrorists and should be wiped off the earth”
• Objectifying language that depersonalizes the authority
figures or other students.
• Refusal to speak or respond to questions or directives
from staff or resident advisor.
Disruptive Behavior Examples
• Student misuse of technology in the classroom
• Frequent interruption of professor while talking and
asking of non-relevant, off-topic questions
• Poor personal hygiene that isolates student from others
• Aggressive attempts to date others on campus
Distracting/Annoying Behavior Examples
• Student has a grating personality
• Student is not prepared or motivated for class
• Student tells odd or strange jokes much below his
developmental age
• Monopolization of staff time, lack of empathy or respect
for others
• Following an evening class, David waits until all the
other students left and then confronts his instructor.
He stands very close to her and in a loud voice tells
her that he needs an A in the class or she will be sorry.
As she attempts to get around him, he blocks the door
and raises his voice, saying “How dare you try to leave
when I am speaking to you! All you teachers are the
same – you don’t care about students here! You just
want a cakewalk and a paycheck. Well, you will be
sorry!” He bangs his fist on the desk closest to him.
Three Rules of Crisis Intervention
1) Realize this is an emergency and requires a
different set of actions and outcomes than you
use in everyday practice.
2) Achieve the proper mindset prior to responding.
3) Keep focused on your goal.
1) Emergency!
• Understand that any crisis
intervention begins with a
realization that you are
now in an emergency.
• What are some ways
(physical, mental,
emotional) you know you
are in an emergency?
Questions for all Emergencies:
Are you safe?
Do you have access to backup?
Do you have the resources you need to respond?
What do you need to document and to whom?
2) Proper Mindset
• DeBecker’s book describes the need for
those in executive protection to have a
“mind like water.”
• This mental state allows the first
responder to remain calm, bring their best
resources to bear on the situation and be
creative in their response.
• Like water—know when to be solid, fluid
and gaseous.
De Becker, G., Taylor, T. & Marquart, J. (2008). Just 2 Seconds: Using time and space to
defeat assassins. Gavin De Becker and Associates.
Firm and Limit Setting
• When immediate safety is in question, there is little
room for listening or offering choices.
• Letting a student possess a weapon, ignoring the
threat or endangering others are not options. Fast
compliance is required.
Flexible and Creative
• Compliance may be needed, but without a direct
safety threat there is more time to build rapport and
connection with the student.
• Look for commonalities, offer choices and explain
potential options.
Observing or Backup
• There are times where we
are not “taking the lead”
in a crisis intervention.
Our role of backup may
feel like being on the
sidelines for time being--but it is an essential
• Take notes, observe, look
for opportunities and
Be at your Best
• We know when responding to a crisis it is essential to control
biology as well as our thoughts.
• John Byrne’s Aggression Management system describes the
biological changes (rapid heart rate, increased breathing,
adrenaline, increased blood pressure) that accompany the
escalation phase.
• If we control our biology through cycle breathing, we can regain
our ability to calmly be more creative and in control of our
Breathe in slowly to the count of
Hold your breath to the count of 1…2…
Breathe out slowly to the count
of 1…2…3…4…
Hold your breath to the count of
3) Focus on the goal
• Steven Covey wrote the famous, best selling book--Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
• One key habit is to “begin with the end in mind”
• When entering an emergency, stay focused on your
• Ask yourself “Is what I am currently doing/saying
getting me closer or further from my goal?”
Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Prevention and Backup
Prevention and Backup
• During the last meeting of the day for one of the
campus academic advisors/counselors, the student
Sarah begins to cry and appears out of touch with
where she is. She climbs under the table and won’t
come out, while yelling incoherently. She appears
scared, but her facial expression is contorted and she
doesn’t seem to be talking to the staff member
Prevention and Backup
Invest Time in Learning about your Campus Partners:
• Campus Police or Safety Procedures
• Counseling
• Emergency Response
• Drills and educational opportunities
• “What would happen if?”
Prevention and Backup
Invest Time in Your Own Safety
• Exits and entrances
• Campus shortcuts
• Traffic patterns and security
• Escort service and lighting
• Room layout and features
• Office safety assessment
• Vulnerable times
• Acknowledge the value and limitations of protection
orders, silent alarms, etc.
Prevention and Backup
What are your backups?
• Always have a plan B
• Be realistic about your limitations
• Determine ways to step back and call for help
• “Red folder” or “diet coke” code words
• Know who you can trust
How to Use the BIT
How to Use the BIT
• Following a meeting at the financial aid office,
Brandon emails the staff member, cursing at her and
calling her an idiot, and tells her he wants to talk to
her boss, “or else.” During an appointment the next
day with the Director of Financial Aid, Brandon begins
the conversation nicely, but ends by telling her “All you
women keep fooling me. You will be sorry. Someday
I’ll be in charge and you won’t even be able to do
How to Use the BIT
What’s a BIT?
• Behavioral Intervention Teams or Campus Threat
Assessment Teams exist on most campuses and strive
to intervene before individuals engage in targeted
• Teams are designed to evaluate information and
assess the likelihood that person may engage in a
future act of violence towards
a specific person or group of
How to Use the BIT
What does the BIT do?
• Collects identification of at-risk
student behaviors
• Conducts careful analysis and
understanding the context
• Provides a collaborative
approach to developing an
action plan
How to Use the BIT
BIT’s help the campus to:
• Identify threatening and
dangerous behavior, thoughts
and attitudes
• Develop threat assessment
techniques to assess threat
• Take action or provide
guidance to those who can
• Track information over time
How to Use the BIT
Why contact the BIT?
• Report a possible threat you want assessed
• Report how you addressed a situation for tracking
• Seek guidance about how to intervene
• Ensure that the BIT has all the information about a
• Report a possible concern before it escalates
• Report behavior that might not be a violation
How to Use the BIT
What happens in meetings?
• Typically 6-8 individuals discuss at-risk students (and
sometimes faculty and staff) during 1-2 hour long
weekly meetings
• Information is usually updated about each student
• Teams often discuss the best way to engage the
student, while taking precautions for safety
• The focus of the discussion is geared towards
prevention and intervention, not reaction and
• FERPA and other laws are respected
How to Use the BIT
Who serves on a BIT?
• Deans of Students (114 teams), often synonymous
with Vice Presidents of Student Affairs (61)
• Counseling Center Directors (153 teams)
• Directors of Departments of Public Safety (139 teams)
• Housing Directors (125 teams)
• Student Conduct Officers (112 teams)
• Health Services Directors (81 teams)
• Faculty Representatives (72 teams)
University of Louisville’s 2010 survey
How to Use the BIT
Successful teams:
• Increase information sharing
• Walk in each other’s shoes
• Task/goal oriented to solution
• Cooperate and collaborate
• Go beyond basic department
• Influence campus culture of
reporting and addressing
How to Use the BIT
Do NOT use your BIT for:
• An in-the-moment emergency or crisis
• A dumping ground so that you don’t have to deal with
• Obvious violations that should go through your
campus conduct process
• Replacement of counselors or other campus resources
How to Use the BIT
What to report to the BIT?
• Factual, observable information – this can include how
behaviors affected you or others
• Details about a student’s behavior
• Information about the context
• Any attempts to confront or contain the behavior
• The individual’s response
• Information about the individual – other concerns,
whether the person has support, etc.
How to Use the BIT
How to Use the BIT
• Recent HEHMA/JED
release on campus teams
How to Use the BIT
• The Handbook for
Campus Threat
Assessment &
Management Teams
How to Use the BIT
• Ending Campus
Violence: New
Approaches to
How to Use the BIT
• National Association
of Behavioral
Intervention Teams
How to Motivate and Persuade
How to Motivate and Persuade
• Jack picks up his first exam at the end of class and sees
that he got a D. Jack begins to panic and flaps his arms
wildly while panting. He makes eye contact with
several students and the instructor, but doesn’t speak.
He continues to breathe in and out rapidly while
flapping his arms.
How to Motivate and Persuade
• Once we establish our goal, the next step is motivating
and persuading the student towards compliance.
How to Motivate and Persuade
• When motivating someone:
• Understand people are more likely to follow our
direction when they trust us. People trust if they
feel understood and listened to.
• We trust people who are similar to us. Find ways to
build a connection between yourself and the
student so that he/she can identify with you, or at
least identify with your direction.
How to Motivate and Persuade
• When persuading someone:
• Remember that 93% of emotional communication
is through our tone, inflection and body language.
It isn’t so much what we say, but how we say it.
• Give clear choices when possible. We can take the
police cruiser or ambulance. It is your choice which
one (not whether or not you go).
How to Motivate and Persuade
• There may be things that you give in order to achieve
compliance. Weigh the cost versus the benefit.
Allowing a smoke
Getting them some food or water
Calling a friend or parents
Moving a car or assist with parking
• Be willing to be flexible in order to reach your goals.
How to Motivate and Persuade
• The driving motivation for most upset people is fear.
They are afraid of failing a test, not getting forms in on
time—maybe even be forced to leave college
• Understand where they are coming from first and then
you can be more effective
• Listen…..Listen some more
• Tell them what they just said
• Then listen to make sure you got it right
How to Motivate and Persuade
• Start with a calm mindset and develop rapport
• Realize the way you see things isn’t always the way
they see things*
• Build a bridge between you and them
Five Steps to Manage Aggression
Five Steps to Manage Aggression
• In the student lounge, Anne is talking on the phone
and her voice starts to escalate. Soon she throws
the phone across the room, shattering it on the
wall. She then goes to the nearest table and knocks
over a chair. She bangs her hands on the table and
then begins to pace around the lounge. Several
students appear scared and leave the area, others
seem frozen in place.
Five Steps to Manage Aggression
Steps to diffusing dangerous situations between you
and the aggressor
1. Get the student away from the crowd.
2. Begin with a positive statement, not a negative
one (constructive, not punitive).
3. Explain the documented issues in a neutral and
reflective way (without sarcasm).
Five Steps to Manage Aggression
Steps to diffusing dangerous situations between you
and the aggressor
4. Explain that their present behavior is not in their
best interest.
5. Ask how we can work together to solve this
problem. Consider the miracle question “What
outcome would you like to see?”
Final Thoughts
Things to avoid when working with dangerous students
– Assume that they will always do what they say.
– Assume they will not do what they say.
– Minimize their behaviors, words, or concerns.
– Debate them about the details of their complaint.
– Ignore behavior because “they are a good person.”
– Letting things escalate without addressing them.
Final Thoughts
Things to do when working with dangerous students
– Plan for the 1%, 100% of the time.
– Remain calm and take things step by step.
– Take time to prepare ahead of time and minimize
risk. Remember you can minimize, not usually
eliminate, risk.
– Work with the student, address the behavior.
– Err on the side of caution and call police, inform the
BIT, or take other action if you think it is warranted.
Brian Van Brunt
[email protected]
Laura Bennett
[email protected]