a primer on assessing the potential for violence


a primer on assessing the potential for violence
Preventing Workplace Violence Requires Action on Many
Different Fronts. One of the Most Critical — and Least Understood
— Is Behavioral Threat Assessment.
Workplace violence is perhaps the single greatest and
most common risk confronting employees and businesses
in the U.S. today. This is because:
When violence shatters the routine
of a workplace, especially when it
results in grievous injury or loss of
life, it’s both painful and instructive
to look back at the early signs of
Almost without fail, you will find
a circle of hidden insights.
Discrete pieces of information
held by colleagues, family and
strangers alike are revealed that
would have provided the single
best opportunity to head off
catastrophe had they been shared
and analyzed in a timely manner.
This sensitive and highly
nuanced information collection
and analysis, however, is rarely
conducted when it’s most valuable
– before an incident occurs.
Why? Because, among other
reasons, the domain of knowledge
that underlies it – behavioral
threat assessment – doesn’t fit
neatly within the purview of law
enforcement. Or psychology.
Or even protective intelligence.
Instead, it requires a careful
choreography of them all.
yy The threat – and the many different ways that
violence can unfold in an office or a plant – is
tangible and significant.
yy The vulnerability of most businesses – in terms of not
having an effective behavioral threat assessment
capability or resource in place – is high.
yy The consequences of an attack are very likely to
result in death or injury and may even impact the
reputation and vitality of the company or division
for years.
Key Research Has Given Us
Remarkable Insights into Prevention
We know, through research conducted by the U.S.
Secret Service, that targeted violence is rarely a sudden
and unpredictable event.1 Instead, it is frequently the
end result of a process that is discernable to others.
Threat assessment is widely recognized as the most
effective means of determining whether the facts
appear to show that an individual is on a pathway
to violence. It is designed to separate those few who
actually pose a threat from the many who make threats.
Three Foundational Principles Are Driving
the Evolution of Best Practices in this Field
The goals of behavioral threat assessment are
supported by three key principles derived from the
U.S. Secret Service’s research:
1. Targeted violence is the result of an
understandable and often discernable
process of thinking and behavior.
2. Violence stems from an interaction among
the potential attacker, past stressful events,
a current situation and the target.
3. A potential attacker’s behavior is vital to
identifying his or her intentions.
(1) Fein & Vossekuil, “Assassination in the United States: An operational
study of recent assassins, attackers and near-lethal approachers,” Journal of
Forensic Sciences, 1999. (2) Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum & Modzeleski, “The
Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative,” U.S. Department of
Education and U.S. Secret Service (2002).
A Sampling of Key Steps Critical to Establishing a Model Behavioral Threat Assessment Program
While experts can be summoned on an ad hoc basis whenever credible threats emerge, many organizations –
especially large employers – are better served by developing in-house capabilities at some level. Key elements
of such programs include:
yy A Multi-Disciplinary Team – Fill Each Seat
Carefully. The most effective threat assessment
teams in corporate environments have
full executive support and often include
the ombudsman and representatives from
management, key operating divisions, HR, legal
and the safety and security department as well
local law enforcement, mental health centers
and external threat assessment firms.
yy Awareness – Harness the Support of the Entire
Workforce. Company-wide campaigns and other
tactics to broadcast the existence of the threat
assessment team and its purpose are essential.
One key message: employees should not attempt
to decide what is and is not serious enough to
report. If there is a concern, they should share the
information with a colleague or, preferably, with
the threat assessment team.
yy Privacy – Become Very Familiar With How, What
and With Whom Information Can Be Shared.
A common stumbling block involves reluctance by
team members to share information. This often
stems from the perceived limitations of laws such as
the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability
Act (HIPAA). These laws, however, often provide
exceptions that allow information to be shared
under certain circumstances.
yy Training and Role-Playing – Keep Learning,
Practicing and Simulating Scenarios. Consider
having outside experts introduce key concepts
in the context of actual events – emphasizing
the importance of collaborative interviews as an
information-gathering tool – and offer several
different solutions to a given set of circumstances.
yy Reporting Guidelines – Define the Formal
Channels of Information Exchange. Research has
shown that third parties often have vital pieces
of information that they keep to themselves –
sometimes with tragic consequences – because
they don’t know who to tell or they question the
value of the information. For this reason, clear
guidelines should be developed for employees
to report aberrant, dangerous or threatening
behaviors to the threat assessment team.
yy Collaboration: Get Connected with National
Associations and Peer Groups. Various groups can
provide a free or low-cost method of obtaining
practical advice and keeping up-to-date with
developments in the fields of behavioral threat
assessment and workplace violence prevention.
Consider joining the Association of Threat
Assessment Professionals (ATAP), Society for Human
Resource Management (SHRM) or the American
Society for Industrial Security (ASIS).
Practical Tips for Execution:
Our Recommendations
Tip #1: Define your objectives. Articulate exactly what
you would like your behavioral threat assessment
program and team to achieve. Is it to improve workplace
safety and continue to foster a productive work
environment? Is it to identify individuals who could pose
a risk of harm to themselves and to others in the office or
plant? Is it to provide assistance to individuals in crisis?
Carefully define these goals because they carry important
ramifications for team discussions on issues that are not
as precisely defined, consistently fixed or commonly
held as those relating to health, security or law
enforcement disciplines.
Tip #2: Understand what is required of you by regulators
– and then move proactively beyond this threshold.
Many companies are required by regulators to have
programs that address workplace violence – and
encounter stiff fines when they fail to do so. But don’t
just stop at this threshold. Be proactive on many fronts.
Develop a “managers’ guide” on how to recognize and
respond to potential behaviors of concern. Develop
an Incident Response Plan. Conduct tabletop exercises
on actions to take if someone brings a weapon to
the workplace. Launch an awareness campaign for
employees. Set up a 1-800 hotline. And by all means,
“know your employees” through screening, due diligence
and both logical and physical monitoring.
Tip #3: Remember that timing is absolutely critical.
Protection, of course, is paramount. Move too slowly –
or too quickly – and you can undermine your options to
ensure the victim’s safety now and in the future.
To find out more about our workplace violence,
behavioral threat assessment and security training and
awareness services as well as our broader security and
investigative services, contact:
Matt Doherty, Senior Vice President,
Federal Practice
202.306.6530 or [email protected]
Arnette Heintze, Chief Executive Officer
312.869.8500 or [email protected]
The HILLARD HEINTZE 360° INSIGHT® publication is an ongoing and regular series of executive briefing papers on
a wide range of critical and emerging issues at the forefront of best-in-class security and investigative practices today.
To view other publications in the series, visit hillardheintze.com/360insight.
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