Putnam County lawmakers recently unveiled a new mechanism to empower individuals who see suspicious or questionable behavior in the community to confidentially report it to the proper authorities, as part of the Putnam County Threat Assessment Management Team.
Submissions made at PCTAM.net are not widely distributed to all members of the threat assessment management team, but are instead evaluated immediately after being submitted by a small team of mental health and local law enforcement investigators.
According to Putnam County Sheriff Kevin McConville, those who commit violence usually exhibit pre-attack behaviors related to a mental health crisis or problematic interpersonal interactions, which may be remediated through intervention.
“Pre-attack behaviors and indicators are part of a well-documented phenomenon that occurs prior to an incident of targeted violence, known as the pathway to violence,” he said. “This pathway has many subparts, and if we can intervene on any one of these parts, we will be able to prevent an act of violence from occurring and potentially save lives.”
PCTAM is a multi-disciplinary team that brings together law enforcement, mental health professionals, school officials, social service agencies and other community stakeholders to identify, assess and manage threats of targeted violence. It is focused on keeping the county safe through community-based intervention approaches for threats, or threatening behavior from an individual, grievance-fueled violence and online radicalization.
Training will take place in the next few weeks for school resource officers, law enforcement and others involved in the process.
“This training will further enhance the skills and abilities of our personnel to address these matters,” said the sheriff. “The goal here is prevention, not prosecution.”
The community is reminded that this reporting does not address imminent danger or actions, in which case residents should call 911.
Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, Mental Health & Youth Bureau Michael Piazza said that in the decades since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1994, studies have shown there are clues that others – not just law enforcement – can pick up on. Family, neighbors or peers may be able to tell that someone is being bullied, isolated or otherwise showing indicators of distress.
“The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent,” he said. “They do not commit crimes. But a tiny minority of them do.”
PCTAM codifies a protocol and procedure for law enforcement, schools, family and others to report their observations and concerns. “A report can be made, we can calmly look at it, investigate it, and plan for interventions for the benefit of the person or individual, or individuals, and the community,” he said.
Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne said history shows that before targeted acts of violence, there have been red flags.
“Over the past 12 years, every time there has been an attacker at targeted schools, they had exhibited warning signs beforehand,” he said. “Eighty-one percent of the time, prior to an attack that involved a firearm… the attacker actually told somebody. Seventy percent of the time, a person who committed suicide told someone or gave warning.”
He encouraged individuals to utilize the new reporting system to relay any concerns.
“Behaviors such as threats, intense or escalating anger, interest in weapons, depression or isolation, changes in behavior or appearance, or interests in violence or talk of being bullied,” he said. “Your observations are important and could potentially stop an act of targeted violence.”
In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo in May 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul issued an executive order directing each county to develop plans to confront domestic terrorism. Grant funding was made available to all 57 counties and New York City to support development of threat assessment and management teams – a key component in meeting requirements of Domestic Terrorism Prevention Plans. The executive order was designed to fight the surge in domestic terrorism and violent extremism frequently inspired by, planning on, and posted about on social media platforms and internet forums.
Putnam County submitted its plan in December 2022 and received approval in January.