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Behavioral Threat Assessment

Updated: Mar 23

A Behavioral Threat Assessment Team Collaborating on a Case
A Behavioral Threat Assessment Team Collaborating on a Case

As it pertains to preventing assailants from carrying out violent attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has said the following. "...By far the most valuable prevention strategy identified was the threat assessment and management team. The good news is that every organization and community has the potential to stand up or access such a team."(Making Prevention a Reality, FBI, 2017) In the aftermath of one of these attacks, law enforcement, community members, co-workers, parents, family members, friends, and mental health professionals all come together to trace the steps of an attacker. Where did they go? Who did they talk to? Who saw red flags leading up to this?

All of those questions, and more, will be answered through interviews with all of those people. How much better would it world be if we worked together to answer all of those questions before the attack is carried out…and then intervene? Multi-disciplinary threat assessment teams consisting of all of those mentioned above, who collectively have all the pieces of the puzzle, are the most practical and effective way we have to answer those questions prior to an attack, and ultimately prevent the loss of lives.

Organizations that develop internal behavioral threat assessment teams now have an additional tool in their security tool belt to ensure their people, assets, and processes are secure.

Some concepts to understand:

1. Do they “snap” or do they “decide”?

According to the FBI, the assailant in a mass shooting never attacks out of a sudden, random, immediate need to attack a crowd of people, a school full of students, or a house of worship full of believers. These attacks are predatory and planned. The planning process can range from days, to weeks, to months. The attacker intentionally conceals his/her motives, intent, and plans which adds to the common misconception that the attacker ‘snapped’.

2. See the signs: Recognize and Report

The U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) conducted three analyses of Mass Attacks in Public Spaces (MAPS) from the years 2017-2019. A key finding from these studies states, “Most of the attackers had exhibited behavior that elicited concern in family members, friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, and others, and in many cases, those individuals feared for the safety of themselves or others.”

Many other studies support this key finding - That those who planned violent attacks, “Did not threaten their targets directly, but prior to the incidents they displayed identifiable behaviors reflecting potentially violent intent.” (The Exceptional Case Study Project, U.S. Secret Service, 1997)

It is critical that everyone understands that potential assailants are progressing toward committing an attack, but they can be interrupted. Even better - they can be helped and violence can be prevented if people understand the signs, recognize them, and follow a designated and trusted reporting system.


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