Behavioral Threat Assessment: A Proactive Approach to Prevent Targeted Violence

When it comes to preventing devastating acts of violence, the U.S. Secret Service has ushered in a proactive approach known as behavioral threat assessment. This research report from the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) provides valuable insight into how attackers demonstrate concerning behaviors leading up to their attack and shows that targeted violence can be prevented when communities are equipped with education and resources for intervention.

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Behavioral threat assessment programs are not designed to predict who will become violent, but rather to identify people exhibiting suspicious or dangerous behaviors and intervening before an act of harm is committed. To examine threats more closely, NTAC studied 173 attacks across different locations including workplaces, schools, houses of worship and residential complexes. Here are some of the key findings they discovered:

  • Most attackers had exhibited troubling behavior prior to their attack that elicited concern from family members, friends, co-workers or others with whom they interacted.
  • Many assailants had a history of violent criminal charges or domestic violence incidents prior to the attack.
  • Half of all attackers were retaliating against personal grievances related to family, domestic or workplace issues.
  • Most perpetrators used firearms that were obtained illegally at the time of their attack.
  • 25% of them subscribed to conspiracy theories or hateful ideologies like anti-Semitism and misogyny.
  • Many went through traumatic life events leading up to the attack including relationship troubles, employment issues and mental health challenges like depression and psychosis.

With these findings in mind, community organizations should be guided by these research results when implementing behavioral threat assessment programs in order to build safe environments free from potential danger for everyone involved.

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Michael Julian

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