Presidents Message – Fall 2019

Sheriff Craig Roberts
President, OSSA

What is Oregon law enforcement doing to deter mass violence?

In the wake of recent active-shooter incidents, including the tragic August 3rd mass shooting in El Paso that claimed 22 lives and injured 24, I want to talk about some of the work we’re doing in Oregon to deter mass violence. Oregon law enforcement is far ahead of much of the country on this issue, and others are studying Oregon as a model for their own states.

Since 2014, we’ve been working with the Oregon Task Force on School Safety to craft recommendations for state lawmakers on improving school safety. At the same time, we’ve been looking at ways we can intercede with adults who show signs of being suicidal and/or a danger to others. In the course of our research, we’ve identified some key measures that help prevent acts of violence or self-harm.

“See Something, Say Something”

First and foremost, we encourage youth and adults that “if you see something, say something.” September 25th has been identified as “If You See Something, Say Something” Awareness Day. The goal of this campaign is to inspire, empower, and educate the public on suspicious activity reporting. You can learn more about the campaign online at say-something.

Experts in threat assessment use the term “leakage” to describe the ways crucial information can get out before a mass shooting, information that can be used to prevent a shooting from happening if it’s spotted and shared in time. Leakage can include social media posts or manifestos that hit the internet before a planned act of violence or statements the shooter makes to friends. The problem is that these indicators can be tough to spot ahead of time or, tragically, statements by a mass killer may not be taken seriously by friends or those who overhear the statements.

“See Something, Say Something” and “leakage” also applies to those who want to harm themselves. Subjects may disclose in advance that they’re depressed or suicidal. If you become aware of concerns regarding self-harm, report it immediately. It could be that person’s last reach-out for help before they decide to take their own life.

SafeOregon and multiple tip platforms

The next important component is to make sure there are a number of platforms on which people can report concerns.

Teens and young adults are often reluctant to pick up the phone and call 911; they may prefer to report concerns via text, email, or web portal. That’s why tipsters can report concerns confidentially to SafeOregon via voice or text: 844-472-3367; email: tip@; website: www.safeoregon. com; or the mobile app available on iTunes or Google Play.

Concerns about adults should be reported by contacting 911 or local law enforcement.

A team approach to reported concerns

Tips that come to SafeOregon are forwarded to local law enforcement and/or school administrators. The response varies depending on the level of concern.

High-level concerns are addressed with a multidisciplinary approach: schools, mental health, local law enforcement, and other community partners. Working together, a team of professionals from across several disciplines can come up with a plan to provide wrap-around services to intercede and prevent acts of violence.

I know of a number of potentially life- threatening situations, including youths contemplating or attempting suicide, that were averted by these sorts of multidisciplinary interventions. These teams take warning signs seriously, investigate threats, and do much more than possibly avert crimes. They connect subjects with services that can have long-term benefits for the subject and the public at large.

In many counties in Oregon, a multidisciplinary approach is also used for adult threat-assessment teams. A team working to intercede with an adult could incorporate personnel from parole and probation, mental health, and domestic violence units, including survivor advocates.

Takeaways from ATAP training

I’ve been meeting public- and private- sector professionals from around the Pacific Northwest as a member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP). This organization provides amazing training, including case studies, and takes a hard look at lessons learned. This is a wonderful opportunity to work with other law enforcement and business leaders to understand the latest and best evaluation tools.

One of my biggest takeaways from ATAP training is understanding the value of recognizing, and taking seriously the warning signs, and then reporting those warning signs to law enforcement or other authorities. Sadly, in a number of active- shooter incidents, threats made by the shooter were not taken seriously by friends, family members, or co-workers, with tragic results.

Please make the hard call — it could save a life.

ATAP has also underlined for me that these problems are complex, and best addressed with multidisciplinary solutions: law enforcement, mental-health, and other professionals working together to not just contain the immediate threat, but also to get the threatening subject help that will move them past the urge to harm themselves or others.

You can be proud of the efforts being made in Oregon to prevent these horrific mass shootings. Law enforcement needs your help to continue to do this important work. Please encourage your friends and family to join and support the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association. Working together, we are making a difference!

Sheriff Craig Roberts President, OSSA

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