Episode 06: NYU Behavioral Intervention Team
Fountain L. Walker, Associate Vice President, Campus Safety NYU - New York, and Thomas Ellett, Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs / Associate Vice Provost for University Programs, visit with Karen and Sabah to discuss NYU's Behavioral Intervention Team and the safety resources it provides to the University community.
Fountain L. Walker
Fountain L. Walker is a native of Miami, Florida. He served eight years in the United States Marine Corps at Camp Lejuene and after completing his second tour of duty opted for a career in law enforcement. During his time in public safety service he has held positions in North Carolina and Illinois. Fountain served as Chief of Police at Davidson College, Davidson, NC and University of Chicago, Chicago IL. He has twenty-four years of public safety experience. Fountain is an advocate for community engagement and spent his career working to change the perception that the community has of law enforcement through open dialogue, transparency, professional development and training.
Fountain is now the Associate Vice President, Campus Safety at New York University and is responsible for the Field Operations Division which is made up of three hundred Security Services personnel, Investigative Services & Victim Advocacy, External Affairs & Protective Services, and Campus Safety Event Security Services. The New York University Department of Campus Safety is committed to professionalism, excellence and community.
Fountain has a Master of Arts, Human Services Counseling and accumulated a number of certifications and awards throughout his career.
Thomas Ellett, Ph.D.
Tom currently serves as the Sr. Associate Vice President of Student Affairs / Associate Provost for University Programs at New York University. Tom’s current responsibilities include supervising over 100 full-time staff, 88 Faculty members serving in residence or as affiliates in the student affairs units, and 500+ paraprofessional staff, while the operations total $195 Million in overall revenue. He has oversight for the following student development/services offices: Research and Assessment, Residential Life, Housing Services, University Community Standards and Compliance, and the Center for Student Life (which includes Orientation, Commuter Student Life, Transfer Students and Graduate Student Life).
Tom also holds an academic appointment to teach graduate level courses at NYU’s Steinhardt School HESA program (Higher Education and Student Affairs). He served as the President of the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-I) a few years ago. Tom received his Ph.D. from Fordham University in Education, Leadership, Administration and Policy program.
Episode 6_ BIT_829.mp3
Intro Voices [00:00:05] Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices [00:00:31] This is You Matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman [00:00:36] Hi everyone and welcome back to You Matter. A podcast created to teach, inspire, and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion, and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your co-host Karen Ortman Assistant Vice President of Field Operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional.
Sabah Fatima [00:00:58] And I am Sabah Fatima, a pre med graduate student here at NYU's College of Global Public Health. If any information presented today is triggering or disturbing please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212 443 9999.
Karen Ortman [00:01:14] Today we introduce Fountain Walker, Associate Vice President of Public Safety NYU New York and Tom Ellett, Senior Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Associate Vice Provost, university programs, to talk about NYU's Behavioral Intervention Team. Fountain is the chair and Tom is a member. Fountain and Tom, thank you for joining us today.
Fountain Walker [00:01:37] Thank you.
Tom Ellett [00:01:37] It's a pleasure.
Karen Ortman [00:01:38] Fountain. Let's begin by talking about what a behavioral intervention team is and the purpose that it serves.
Fountain Walker [00:01:45] NYU's Behavior Intervention Team is led by the Department of Public Safety in partnership with external university departments. The BIT, or BIT as we call it, is responsible for reasonably assessing concerns that an individual poses or may reasonably pose a threat of violence to self, others, or to the university community. The BIT will initiate an intervention designed to avert a threat if it actually exists. The purpose of the team is to respond appropriately to concerns expressed by behaviors exhibited by anyone—students, employees, tenants, visitors, and unaffiliated persons—before a critical incident actually occurs.
Karen Ortman [00:02:25] Can you define for our listeners exactly what a critical incident is?
Fountain Walker [00:02:31] A critical incident can be defined as any event that has a stressful impact sufficient enough to overwhelm the usually effective coping skills of an individual. Critical incidents are abrupt, powerful events that fall outside the range of ordinary human experiences.
Karen Ortman [00:02:47] Can you describe the makeup of the team and the purpose that each role serves?
Fountain Walker [00:02:54] The BIT is comprised of individuals from Student Affairs which of course has to do with the student interaction, human resources in the event that the individual of concern is an employee, the Office of General Counsel, our legal team, as well as Title IX, another important member of the team, Karen K-O here actually serves on the team as well.
Karen Ortman [00:03:22] Yes, the big reveal. So can you explain to our listeners how the Behavioral Intervention Team communicates to each other given the degree to which everyone is separate and in their own offices in their own areas of the university. It Must be a challenge to kind of keep that conversation flowing when something happens.
Fountain Walker [00:03:52] First of all, any individual that's a member of the team can actually call the team together and generally, we will—whether it's by phone or email —we'll have a brief kind of synopsis of what the concern is. And usually we get on the phone and we have a conversation about next steps. One of the groups that I forgot to mention is also Wellness is a part of the team which is a very important part of this team as well. And generally we can assess the behaviors of concern, have some dialogue about next steps.
Fountain Walker [00:04:23] Okay. Thanks.
Sabah Fatima [00:04:25] Thanks again for being here, Tom. Can you describe your role on the Behavior Intervention Team?
Tom Ellett [00:04:30] Sure. It's a pleasure to be here. I'm one of the many partners, as Fountain mentioned, who assists in best understanding what level of crisis there may be with an incident. They can range from a conversation about a concern we have based on behaviors that are exhibited by a student, maybe a threat to self—someone who wants to harm themselves, or maybe want to harm someone else by exhibiting something in their behavior. It could be a real sudden outburst that someone might have regarding something that's happened to them or something they've seen happen. It could be someone who's isolated from others and in removing themselves from communities, somebody who hasn't fully engaged in the community as we would hope. Certainly, aggressive behavior where physical violence might be exhibited is another example as well. There's lots of them.
Sabah Fatima [00:05:24] Can you provide any examples of behaviors that might suggest that a person demonstrates a need for intervention.
Tom Ellett [00:05:33] Sure. Certainly, when someone behaves in a way that concerns us as it relates to what might happen to themselves or in a community. For instance, we've had issues where someone has had a volatile relationship with somebody and they have shared with someone that they want to get harm to themselves or potentially harm to someone else—that person in the relationship. And so that would be something that we'd want to outreach to gain more information to make sure that the student was okay and that they had no indication that they would really be doing some harm to someone else.
Sabah Fatima [00:06:13] Thank you. Upon receipt of a Behavior Intervention Team complaint or concern, do you distinguish between faculty, staff, and student, in terms of your response?
Tom Ellett [00:06:25] I usually bring the perspective of the student issues forward as the person who works in Student Affairs. Though there are other representatives who may be focused more on faculty issues or staff issues. But really what's important is that someone in our community is in need of outreach, whether it be a faculty member, a student, or staff. So we take all of these very seriously and approach it in the same way and manner that we would for any of the constituents that we just shared.
Karen Ortman [00:06:55] So it sounds like it's more of a multidisciplinary team approach, where you have an issue of concern and there are multiple disciplines that weigh in and of course, if it's a student in concern then I would think Tom your area would have a large degree of input based upon your history with that person or your knowledge of that person, and next steps regarding that potential student who might be a danger to themselves or to others.
Tom Ellett [00:07:29] Well, a good reason to be multidisciplinary is really to think about the touch points that many of our people in the community have. Staff are also students. Students are also staff. Faculty see students in the classroom. Faculty interact with staff in their day to day interactions. So having all of those people at the table gives different perspectives in how we may interact with the person of concern.
Karen Ortman [00:07:55] Absolutely.
Sabah Fatima [00:07:57] Do you provide feedback to the reporting party?
Tom Ellett [00:07:59] As it relates to the reporting party?
Sabah Fatima [00:08:03] In terms of when someone comes to you with with a concern.
Tom Ellett [00:08:08] Yeah I think it's really important that we thank the person who brings the incident to our attention and then let them know the steps that we're taking. We certainly do not break confidentiality by going back to that individual reports and says here's what we're doing or here's what we've done. Unless it were directly impacting that individual. So if that person is the person who feels like they are the one who may be receiving potential violence towards them, then certainly they would be involved in the conversation. But if someone who is outside seeing something, as a witness so to speak, we wouldn't go back and share confidential information with that person.
Sabah Fatima [00:08:45] Okay. Thank you.
Karen Ortman [00:08:47] Fountain, how long has the Behavioral Intervention Team been in place at NYU?
Fountain Walker [00:08:52] I think we're going on year two now of this team being together. It's in my opinion been very successful. I think others that serve on the team would feel the same way. About two years.
Karen Ortman [00:09:05] So can you describe the steps that are taken once a complaint or concern has been received by a member of the Behavioral Intervention Team?
Fountain Walker [00:09:15] After the notification, there's a meeting of some sort.
Karen Ortman [00:09:19] How does that notification typically arrive?
Fountain Walker [00:09:23] Well it's a combination. It could be a phone call from one person who has made some sort of observation or has observed or been notified that there is a behavior of concern. Or it could just be an email for us to take a look at a particular situation or report. That's generally how it comes and once we receive that notification, we tend to include all members of the team. But the beauty of having this multifaceted team together is that if it's not something that falls in your area of expertise, you can still give input but you don't necessarily have to be a part of it. So we can have like an ad hoc situation if need be. We can add pieces if we need to add pieces to it. But that group comes together and generally, a decision is made based on the information that's available to us. Again, sometimes it's going to be confidential information that we just discuss among the group and depending on what the situation is, if it's about self harm, let's find this individual as quickly as possible. Let's get them the resources that they need and make sure that they are okay at this moment. There are gonna be other things that could be emerging and we would have to, you know, look at each segment of that and decide about the next step that we're going to take in regards to some sort of response to the person.
Fountain Walker [00:10:38] But the idea is to get help as quickly as possible to ensure that that individual is safe and if there is another person that has been identified as a target or if this person is threatening, ensure their safety too. So there is going to be, whether it's Public Safety actually going to go look and find this person and engage. It may even be that we have to engage external law enforcement or our other protection partners. It just depends on the significance or seriousness of a threat.
Karen Ortman [00:11:12] So it must be challenging to assess the degree to which someone might be of concern, given the subjective nature of the person, drawing that conclusion. So do you oftentimes get referrals regarding a situation that actually doesn't rise to the level of something that is of danger to the person or to the community? And if so, how is that response handled?
Fountain Walker [00:11:52] So I wouldn't say often but we have received those types of complaints where because it's an individual trying to interpret what they consider to be bad behavior.
Fountain Walker [00:12:05] Let's just say they saw something on a computer and in that moment they felt that that was a threat to them personally or a threat to people in a room. But the individual was actually just looking at something. They had no intent of actually following through and wanting to act. They hadn't identified anyone that they were threatening or anything like that, no threat to the community. And so what we have to do is ensure, first of all, that there isn't a threat. But once we do that, we go back to the individual that made the complaint or the call and we talk to them about what that means and what that looks like.
Fountain Walker [00:12:35] There are some who understand, in that moment, I think because of what we're experiencing right now in the world, especially in higher ed, a lot of the incidents where people are having negative responses to bad news and different things like that, people are concerned about their own safety as well as those that they are there to teach in the classroom.
Karen Ortman [00:12:55] So the example that you gave about somebody looking at something on their computer, is that person ever addressed?
Fountain Walker [00:13:03] There's a conversation with that individual. Generally their response is, “Oh my, I didn't realize I did something wrong. I'm so sorry. It wasn’t my intent to upset or alarm anybody. I was just curious at that moment or this is something that I was following up on.”
Fountain Walker [00:13:20] And so for us it's, “Hey, well how about next time just, you know, do that somewhere else and not while you're sitting in class.”
Karen Ortman [00:13:26] It’s still a valuable service provided by the Behavioral Intervention Team because if it causes somebody anxiety or concern, even though it might not cause someone else a level of concern, it's important to address so that everyone feels safe.
Fountain Walker [00:13:42] Right. Absolutely.
Karen Ortman [00:13:44] Can anyone in the NYU community report a person of concern to the Behavioral Intervention Team?
Fountain Walker [00:13:49] Absolutely. We have an email moniker, firstname.lastname@example.org. Just feel free to communicate and any member from the team can pick up the email and respond.
Karen Ortman [00:14:01] Okay. So what happens after an individual has been reported to the team? You said that the person who wasn't of concern would be addressed and there would be a conversation. What about the person who is of concern?
Fountain Walker [00:14:19] So it depends on what we identify as a resource or how we can help this person. So if it’s someone that is talking about self harm, then there's gonna be some sort of medical intervention. This person will probably be put somewhere where they can be observed up until those professionals can ascertain whether or not it is safe for them to come back into the community. The institution also has a responsibility that has to be managed and so they're going to need some guarantees that this individual is okay to come back and interact with folks and that overall, they're going to be safe.
Fountain Walker [00:14:55] There are gonna be some, unfortunately, I call bad actors that had intent. They were being malicious, they were going out to do harm. And that again is something that we will contact our external protection partners. We will engage them because at the end of the day, even though we want to get this person help, we are responsible for the overall safety of this community. And we have to do that in partnership with those agencies. And so there may be times when law enforcement is called to engage an individual and to take the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our community.
Karen Ortman [00:15:30] Are the referrals to the Behavioral Intervention Team, the subsequent discussions regarding the actor or actors, and any sort of information that goes to that discussion that the Behavioral Intervention Team has, is that confidential? And is that accessible to anyone outside of the Behavioral Intervention Team? Particularly once the matter is closed.
Fountain Walker [00:16:02] It is confidential. We do not share that information.
Sabah Fatima [00:16:06] Tom, what have you gained from being part of the Behavior Intervention Team?
Tom Ellett [00:16:13] Let's start out right from the beginning where we brought an outside consultant in to really think about what should we be doing as a best practice institution. And we had a lot of time to reflect on what was happening on other campuses and lessons learned. But the new uniqueness of NYU being in New York City, how would we do it a little differently because we don't have borders of a fence around our campus. But also the idea of getting to know my colleagues in a deeper way. A shared understanding of our language, what does crisis mean, defining what that word means, and how will we all kind of respond in a similar way? Because in crisis, you want it to be instantaneous. You want it to be able to be a reflection and a reaction that you have. And I think when we share on how we're going to handle these situations, we have a better way. When a real incident comes that we're able to respond in an effective and in the best way for NYU, for our students, our faculty, and our staff.
Sabah Fatima [00:17:12] Thank you. Can I ask what are the most common issues you've seen that are part of the Behavior Intervention concerns?
Tom Ellett [00:17:21] I would say that you always think you've seen everything and then you see something else. So that's a hard question to answer because human behavior is so erratic at times and unpredictable that you just really don't know.
Karen Ortman [00:17:38] And I'm sure the subjective nature of concern and what rises to the level of concern is different for everybody. So I'm sure it runs the gamut of what some might consider less concerning but very concerning to others up to—
Tom Ellet [00:18:00] For someone who's never been in a crisis before and the first time they experience something, it's probably going to be eleven out of ten than somebody who's experienced lots of crisis, are going to probably start to look at the fact patterns to determine whether it should be a five, eight, or an eleven. And so there is a difference based on the person who's actually reporting it, witnessing it, or hearing it.
Sabah Fatima [00:18:22] Right. All right. Thank you. Fountain, as the chair of the Behavioral Intervention Team, how do you see the team evolving over the next three to five years?
Fountain Walker [00:18:33] Picking back up a little bit about what Tom said about the training. There are ways or certifications that the group can attain and that is something that I would like to see occur over time. Kind of professionalization of the BIT. There's another thought as well.
Fountain Walker [00:18:52] We are a large institution. We have some 20 something schools, a number of operating units etc. And what I would like to see at some point is not so much a specialist, but an individual within these units that could be our key contact person. So that if we wanted to do something like training for an office, we could have that individual assist. They could attend a large training and they themselves can go out and kind of talk about the behaviors that folks are exposed to and how they de-escalate certain instances. Because a lot of times what we find is that the person just doesn't know what to do in the moment and they may report something to the BIT that really is bad behavior and it's something that you can actually address. It's not a directed threat. The other thing is to expand into providing response or services for employees.
Fountain Walker [00:19:50] So that's a different level and it's more, I think it’s kind of been my experience, that it's behavioral threat assessment where we're looking at instances where there may be a domestic circumstance or an individual that is threatening a member coming on to campus. Those types of things. To build up on that and so that might be the BIT as a core group but then there may be an opportunity for a few others to be an extension, to be a part of those conversations, to standardize that now.
Sabah Fatima [00:20:24] Fountain and Tom, thank you for joining us today on You Matter and for sharing such important information with our listeners. Is there anything else you'd like to add that we did not ask you today?
Fountain Walker [00:20:35] No. I think it's OK. I think we’re good.
Sabah Fatima [00:20:40] Perfect. Well thank you to our guests, Fountain and Tom, and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter.
Karen Ortman [00:20:48] If any information presented today was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212 443 9999. You can also get in touch with NYU’s Department of Public Safety and their victim services unit by calling 212 998 2222.
Sabah Fatima [00:21:08] For more podcasts like these you can find us by searching for You Matter on Apple podcasts or Google Play.