In the past year, this unit has received about three new cases a week referred by federal, state, local and campus law enforcement, schools, businesses and houses of worship, Simmons said.
The Behavioral Threat Assessment Center gets involved when someone notifies law enforcement, for example, about some troubling behavior, and law enforcement reaches out to the center to help assess the situation.
"The people around that subject often become fearful that that outcome is catastrophic act of violence, such as an active shooting or some type of mass attack," Simmons said.
The center is staffed by agents and analysts of the FBI, the U.S. Capitol Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives and a psychiatrist. It helps the local officials assess the threat the person of concern poses. And then the center recommends how to proceed. Depending how far along the person is on the "pathway to violence," Simmons said, the center makes recommendations based on the specific case. The recommendations could be arrest, if the person is involved in illegal activity, but most often, it's getting that person access to mental health care, he said.
As an example, Simmons referred to a case his unit consulted on a few years back. There was a man at a university who began to display bizarre behaviors coupled with an increasing interest in firearms, Simmons said. This man created a makeshift shooting range in the basement of his home where he lived with roommates, and he used pictures of the roommates as bull's-eyes for target practice. He also was involved in animal abuse, Simmons said, and he was making statements that were troubling. Collecting firearms and target practice are not illegal activities, but the roommates feared for their safety. So they alerted university authorities, Simmons said.