DETROIT – The Joint Terrorism Task Force Threat Response Unit in Detroit investigates threats to Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
"Since the attack at Parkland High School, the FBI has taken a step forward in developing a threat response," FBI Special Agent Christopher Tarrant said. "So, in Detroit, locally, we have a threat to life squad, which is responsible for anything that comes in through our systems and through our call center where we think that there is a threat to an individual, or the public safety, a threat to life, that we call it."
The task force is made up of 12 FBI special agents and has several members from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies on it as well.
Local 4 was with the task force during a recent training drill at Wayne State University.
"(The training) is related to contact with a potential subject of one of our threats," said Devin Kowalski, supervisory special agent with the FBI. "What happens when that person comes to the door and what the agents may encounter in a given situation.
"We're also responsible for investigations of domestic terrorism, weapons of mass destruction. We also have folks that are positioned at the airport, the Detroit Metro Airport that are responsible for any matters that come up at the airport whether that be terrorism related or crimes on board aircraft. We try to get out in front of any threat that we receive. Threats come in from a variety of threat mechanisms, whether it be online gaming, whether it be a report of a bystander to suspicious activity, and we immediately collaborate with local law enforcement, state law enforcement entities, oftentimes are private, and then we conduct a thorough and, at times, prompt investigation."
Kowalski said the squad has liaisons with different programs where an agent is responsible for maintaining a relationship. Those liaisons include with college campuses, rail security, maritime liaison, an active shooter program liaison and a liaison to the mental health community among others.
"(We) will aggressively investigate any allegation of a threat," Kowalski said. "We will conduct the appropriate coordination with the affected local law enforcement institution and we will make sure something is done out of an overabundance of caution, every single time."
Tarrant said examples of threats can range from school threats where there is threat of a shooting to bomb threats to a school to suicide threats.
"We're trying to be more proactive rather than reactive, so we're taking the tips and information that the community is giving us and we're trying to prevent acts of violence," Tarrant said.
Sometimes the solution to a potential threat does not come in the form of prosecution of a crime.
"Some of our situations are not suitable for court," Kowalski said. "They're not suitable for federal disruption. The federal system is not equipped in the mental health arena. We rely heavily on our state and local partners in the law enforcement community, as well as in the mental health practicing community to conduct committals -- voluntary and involuntary committals -- where we're trying to go one step further."
The task force also offers active shooter presentations to the community. Tarrant said they've presented to approximately 5,000 individuals from schools, businesses and even other law enforcement officers.
He said they give a presentation on how to respond to a situation that might occur at a facility and the FBI's run, hide, fight protocol, during which they teach people to run, actively hide and fight if they have to as a last resort.
Members of the task force said it is crucial for the community to report suspicious behavior.
"In attacks over the years, in a large majority, over 84% of them there was at least one person that had access to the person and that knew that the person that committed the attack had a violent tendency or subscribed to a radical ideology," Kowalski said. "And that was 84% of the instances, but in only 50 percent of those times did that bystander say something. We'd love for that to be 100% of the time so that we have the best possible opportunity to get out in front and prevent and mitigate the threats."
The FBI stresses that it relies on the community for tips to help prevent acts of violence. If you have anything to report, call local police or contact the FBI directly at 1-800-CALL-FBI.