News & Events

Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA) Protocols must be utilized to their fullest during this “Extended Critical Period”

Issued June 2014

Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA) Protocols must be utilized to their fullest during this “Extended Critical Period”

As most of you aware there have been a number of high profile violent incidents in British Columbia, across Canada and the United States in the past few weeks. These high profile violent acts result in “Critical Periods” (predictable time frames for increased threat making and threat related behaviour) throughout the impact zones where media coverage exists. There have been multiple homicides and high profile violent incidents where the “First Critical Period” (two weeks post-incident) have coincided with each other and has created the most intense high risk period since the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings.

It is essential to stay hyper-vigilant for the last few days of school as students return to write their exams and as you receive any reports of worrisome behaviour being exhibited. With a Provincial and National perspective, the volume of plausible threats to kill, weapons possession (especially knives) and extreme worrisome behaviour cases is the highest we have seen in over a decade and most school districts can “feel” the weight of being caught within so many “coinciding impact zones”.

April is a natural critical period because of Columbine and other high profile incidents like Virginia Tech that occurred. You may not be aware that the second Fort Hood Military Base shooting occurred April 2, 2014 then a week later on April 9, 2014 at Franklin Regional High School in Pennsylvania a sixteen year old male student stabbed 21 fellow students and a security guard. Since these high profile attacks the volume of multiple victim homicides has grown steadily. We cannot possibly include all the workplace and post-secondary incidents during this timeframe but this communiqué is relevant to all workplace sectors. Therefore it is relevant to adult VTRA cases as well (staff and parents).

As such, at the end of this communiqué is an overview of some of the more media-focused incidents since April 2nd, 2014.

Key Points:

1) The school-police relationship is still the foundation for Stage I VTRA and both should be formally connecting with each other to review the VTRA protocol/process. Mental Health, Child Protection, Probation, and other related partners also need to be brought in the loop as to the contents of this communication.

2) Under-reaction is still the biggest problem we have where even VTRA trained professionals, for a variety of reasons, do not activate the protocol.

3) High profile violence does not cause people to go from zero (no risk) to sixty (extreme risk) – instead it simply “intensifies already existing symptoms”.

4) The age, gender and socio-economic backgrounds of the perpetrators of these many violent acts is so varied that most high-risk and “primed” for violence individuals can find at least one multiple victim attack they can identify with (identification with the aggressor). Therefore keep in mind that the more a troubled individual can identify with a perpetrator the more it will increase their level of risk.

5) The “target selection” has broadened from targeted violence of people personally known to the perpetrators to “types of targets” (not personally known but viewed as justifiable targets) such as multiple death homicides of police officers in Moncton, New Brunswick and Las Vegas, Nevada to completely “random target selection” cases. Therefore “Target Selection” and “Site Selection” is broad and multiagency collaboration needs to be intensified to meet the current social dynamics.

6) All VTRA cases that come to your attention need to include a social networking scan on the person(s) of interest as that is where we find the most blatant pre-incident signs and indicators.

7) We need to “strategically” intensify our connections with our highest risk children and youth (Empty Vessels) during this time as no one can engage in a serious act of violence unless they feel “justified” in attacking that target or type of target. The power of positive, meaningful human connection is one of the best violence prevention strategies we can easily employ.

Notwithstanding the current climate in North America, the commitment in Canada to formalized multi-agency collaboration for Violence Threat Risk Assessment and the development and use VTRA Protocols has set us apart as a leading Nation. Our level of commitment to learn together and act together has already saved many lives!


J. Kevin Cameron, Executive Director,

Canadian Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response

Theresa Campbell, President, Safer Schools Together

[email protected]