Assessments on the Right TRAC

Sgt. Colette Zazulak and many of her colleagues at the Integrated Threat and Risk Assessment Centre (ITRAC) know just how hectic it can be on the front lines of law enforcement. That’s why they are proud of the role they play behind the scenes.

Zazulak is a certified threat assessor and the operations manager at ITRAC, which works to assess threats and develop risk reduction plans for domestic violence and stalking cases in Alberta, as well as provide expert advice and training to police agencies across the province.

Zazulak herself served at several RCMP detachments before joining ITRAC, and many of her colleagues are also law enforcement veterans. That gives them an understanding of how many domestic violence files police officers are dealing with, and ITRAC’s work helps them prioritize and manage those files.

“We’ve been there, and we know how overwhelming it is to have all these files that a person is trying to manage,” she says. “Ideally, best practices dictate that you pay more attention to the higher-risk ones; you want to be able to triage your files. Our work is important because we’re letting police know which [files], scientifically speaking, are the most dangerous and will require the most resources.”

A typical day at ITRAC usually involves threat assessors at the central office in Edmonton – as well as in satellite offices in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Calgary – poring over raw data from a variety of sources to compile threat assessments and case management suggestions for police services to implement.

Threat assessment requests are only accepted from police departments in Alberta on current domestic violence or stalking charges before the courts; ITRAC completes roughly 250 each year. The assessments are then used in court to determine next steps.

“We’re trying to prevent another violent act from occurring,” Zazulak says. “We do know that the best predictor of future violent behaviour – though not the only one – is past violent behaviour. We’re looking at what we can implement so everyone can work together to prevent future violent acts.”

ITRAC also does rush assessments that can be used in bail hearings after an alleged abuser has been arrested.

While ITRAC is headquartered in Edmonton, Zazulak says it’s important to have threat assessors in other parts of Alberta to build bridges with local police. One of the assessor positions in Lethbridge is funded through the Government of Alberta’s Victims of Crime Fund.

As well, graduate students from MacEwan University, the University of Alberta, Carleton University in Ottawa and other institutions work with ITRAC on research projects that help direct the centre’s work. “They love coming here – they’re super-enthusiastic – and it’s really rare that they can get a placement that gives them this much access to police files and good data,” Zazulak says.

Members of ITRAC have also presented at international conferences and published research papers, some of which have earned provincial and national recognition. Zazulak says those papers and presentations are not only educational tools in a “rapidly evolving field,” but also a great way to let people know about ITRAC and what it does. And the accolades are a reflection of the entire team. “It’s a team effort, and we work together on those types of goals. Those accomplishments, we all share.”

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