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N.Y. sheriff unveils threat assessment unit after Buffalo supermarket shooting

The Behavioral Threat Assessment Team will monitor social media and investigate potential threats, said the Erie County Sheriff’s Office


Police walk outside the Tops grocery store on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Photo/Joshua Bessex/Associated Press

By Harold Mcneil
The Buffalo News, N.Y.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The next time law enforcement officials in Erie County talk about school violence, they want it to be about an incident they prevented, rather than one to which they just responded.

That is the idea behind a new team to be formed within the sheriff’s office that will investigate and act against potential mass shooters and others intent on doing harm to a large number of people, Sheriff John Garcia said.

The creation of the Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, plans for which were unveiled Thursday, comes in response to the recent mass shootings here and in Uvalde, Texas.

Both attacks, Garcia said, shed light on the importance of police and government beginning to address the issue of behavioral threats that have also caused similar tragedies across the country.

“The act of pure evil that occurred on May 14 at the Tops Friendly Markets on Jefferson Avenue underscores the need for law enforcement professionals from across the state to revise strategies, policies, procedures and plans to confront the threat of domestic terrorism and other treacherous behaviors and ideologies,” Garcia said during a news conference.

The team’s mission is to form a consortium of community stakeholders with diverse expertise and the resources to identify and close threat gaps in Buffalo and Erie County, the sheriff said.

The team will act as a clearinghouse of information and will also monitor social media and fringe ideologies online in an effort to identify individuals who pose a public threat in order for law enforcement to disrupt or redirect their activities, Garcia said.

[MORE: How Columbine gave rise to threat assessment teams]

“So it’s not always about ending up in handcuffs. This is about stopping the behavior, stopping the threat,” he said.

“No one agency, organization or company can manage the undertaking and be successful. That’s why we assembled this team,” he added.

Some of the new team’s partners will include the District Attorney’s Office, state police, Secret Service, FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Garcia said that is just first step in completing a roster of partners that will ensure the behavioral threat assessment team represents all aspects of the local community.

“Our goal is this: all local and tribal law enforcement agencies, school districts, colleges, universities, PTA groups, drug and veterans courts, block clubs, all religious communities, area hospitals, if you see it, say something,” he said.

The team will also be creating a website, a mobile app and other means of engaging the public to offer anonymous tips.

April Baskin, chairwoman of the Erie County Legislature, said the law enforcement partners involved will ensure that the behavioral threat assessment team won’t just be another task force, but a robust division targeting individuals who pose a grave threat to the community.

“This is an actual new division that is being developed under the leadership of Sheriff Garcia, and he has my respect for acting so quickly in this manner,” said Baskin.

Garcia said each of the participating law enforcement agencies would have to invest in additional staff and other resources for the endeavor and the Sheriff’s Office would be dependent on the county Legislature to provide funding for more staff. Baskin said lawmakers have not yet discussed a price tag for the new division.

“The Legislature is going to take very seriously deliberating on what public dollars have to be allocated to the office of the sheriff to make sure that it’s stable and sustainable,” she said.

Garcia said members of the team will not be pulled from road patrols and will be highly trained for the demands of the job.

He said he expected the division would be up and running by the end of summer.

(c)2022 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)