April 16, 2018
The FBI recently published the study: Making Prevention a Reality: Identifying, Assessing, and Managing the Threat of Targeted Attacks in 2017. This report is a compilation of the findings from an FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit symposium in 2015 which brought together mental health experts, threat assessment practitioners from law enforcement and academics to discuss targeted attacks.
This study underscores two key concepts: The first is preventing incidents via threat assessment strategies. The second is preventing targeted attacks through engaging individuals of communities and organizations to recognize the risk factors and warning signs and to report them to authorities. Read below for the main insights from the report:
- Demographics do not determine an assailant. Out of the 63 assailants researched in the study, attackers do not fit one demographic type.
- People do not “snap”, they plan. 77% of assailants plan their attack for a week or longer, while 46% of assailants spend a week or more planning the attack and gathering materials.
- Firearms used in targeted attacks are usually purchased legally. The study notes that the majority of attacks were carried out with firearms which were legally acquired.
- Not all assailants are mentally ill. 25% of the studied assailants were diagnosed with a mental illness and only 3 individuals were diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.
- Active Assailants experience several stressors preceding the attack. These individuals experienced notable traumatic events (such as a divorce, job loss, financial issues) within a year leading up to the attack.
- Attackers display 4 to 5 observable concerning behaviors to others. They often show behavior that causes concern (such as deterioration in relationships with others, increased mental health issues, or leakages of threats).
- Teachers, Students and Spouses/ Domestic Partners are more likely to observe concerning behavior: For assailants under the age of 18, peers and instructors at schools are more likely to notice concerning behavior than family members. For adult attackers, spouses and/or domestic partners are more likely to take note of behaviors that raise concerns.
- Once the concerning behavior was noticed, 83% of people spoke to the attacker directly, 53% did nothing to take action. Meanwhile, 41% percent people reported the behavior to law enforcement.
- Common grievances can be linked to attacks. 49% of assailants’ grievances, when identified, were tied to negative interactions with peers or coworkers or measures taken against them at work.
- Victims are typically targeted they are not entirely selected at random. In 64% of the attacks at least one victim was identified as a target prior to the attack.
Although the majority of safety incidents that take place are not low-probability-high consequence events like targeted attacks, we all have a role in preventing incidents. Recognizing when something does not look right and reporting it to right people can have a significant impact on keeping our places of work, education and neighborhoods safer.
If you would like to learn more about the value of prevention, in everyday or in high-risk scenarios, check out our blog series Studies in Prevention or Making Prevention a Reality for School Security . Also, you can take a listen to our new Podcast Series, The Prevention Podcast where we bring to life stories that make prevention actionable through technology and engaging community members.