I’m asked this question a lot from police officers, superintendents, principals, and parents who want help in determining if a person has made a threat. I have never turned anyone down and I’ve never charged a fee for helping. Why do I tell you this? So maybe you’ll feel more comfortable reaching out for ‘another set of eyes’ when and if you’re faced with scary behavior.
So please call or email if you’re concerned and feel as if you could use some extra help. And for the record, you’re not bugging me—not at all.
Now, how do we know when someone has made a threat?
Very simple. A threat is any expression to do harm. The key word here is any….any expression to do harm which can come in the form of words, a look, gesture, drawing, song, story, poem, disturbing behavior such as building bombs, stockpiling weapons, or researching school attacks, mass murderers, how to have sex with a corpse (yes, one school attacker did so), visiting the sites of other school attacks like Columbine High School (yes, one would-be attacker did so), and watching men be hurt and sexually abused by women (yes, one attacker watched this type of movie before his attack).
And…get ready for it…the attacker can do absolutely nothing discernable and still make a threat.
How can that be?
Our minds are supercomputers that are capable of perceiving on the subconscious level what our eyes miss on the conscious level. We call it a ‘gut feeling’ and it’s our body’s way of letting us know that threatening behaviors are present and while we may not be able to fully explain why we feel the way we do, we just know that we’re not safe.
Listen to your gut feelings and those of your teachers, students, and staff members. If you ever want to see the great good that can come from investigating a gut feeling, read how a teacher and her gut feeling saved lots of lives.
If right about now you’re thinking that this sounds confusing, it’s not. Let’s go back to the beginning for one second.
A threat is any expression to do harm.
Don’t get hung on this first step of discernment. If you’re worried, concerned, frightened, or troubled by a disturbing behavior in any way—treat it as a threat and begin a human threat assessment. Your findings in your threat assessment will clarify (and usually pretty quickly) if the person truly poses a threat to themselves or others and if they’re willing to use violence to meet their need.
That’s what we really need to know! Not if they made a threat, but do they pose a threat.
In my experience, schools that have a threat assessment team and the ability to assess a threat are actually much more relaxed and less anxious when an expression to do harm is observed or suspected. They don’t agonize over whether or not there was a threat, but move quickly to determine if the person poses a threat. This is really what we must know and we’re only going to know it by conducting a comprehensive, accurate, and impartial human threat assessment.
So, jump right in there and begin your threat assessment.
One quick reminder – when you do notice an expression to do harm, do not first think punishment and consequences. Punishment is given for breaking the rules and consequences are the natural result of wrong behavior. Neither of these are the best way to prevent violence in the long term. That doesn’t mean that they cannot be useful tools. Incarceration and required mental evaluation can be useful in stabilizing a dangerous situation as well as mandating additional and needed services for the person.
Instead, first think intervention and management. Intervene in the person’s life to prevent the violence and manage the threat (person) in order to lower the risk level. This is our best, long term solution for making everyone safer.
>>> If you liked the information in this article, then you’ll like the class School Threat Assessments which gives you the skills and ability to not only determine if someone has made a threat, but if they pose a threat.