Threat Assessment

The University of Nebraska Threat Assessment Research is multi-disciplinary but grounded in behavioral science principles. The research team engages in research opportunities that will add to the general body of knowledge while enhancing the real-world practice of threat assessment.

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Frequently asked Questions: (Click on the question to see the answer)

What is Threat Assessment?  Click here for more info
The field of threat assessment evolved from practices used to assess and manage dangerousness (potential risk for violence). It represents a blending of behavioral science, intelligence, and law enforcement strategies. Fein, Vossekuil, and Holden (1995) define threat assessment as a “set of investigative and operational techniques that can be used by law enforcement professionals to identify, assess, and manage the risks of targeted violence and its potential perpetrators” (p. 2).
  • Fein, R. A., Vossekuil, B., & Holden, G. A. (1995). Threat assessment: An approach to prevent targeted violence. National Institute of Justice Research in Action, 1-7.
How is Threat Assessment different than Risk Assessment?  Click here for more info
Traditional violence risk assessment focuses on an individual’s propensity for engaging in future violence directed toward unspecified individuals, in unspecified situations, across an unspecified timeframe. In contrast, threat assessment is concerned with predicting future violence or other undesirable actions (e.g., harassment, sabotage, or disruptive activity) that is directed toward specified individuals or institutions, in specified situations, sometimes for a specified window of time.
What is meant by the phrase “Targeted Violence”?  Click here for more info
The phrase “targeted violence” has been used to describe “situations in which there is an identified (or identifiable) target and an identified (or identifiable) perpetrator” (Fein & Vossekuil, 1998, p. 332). The assumption behind assessing threats related to targeted violence is that it is distinct from other criminal acts, requiring that practitioners engage in analyses that are much different from traditional investigative techniques (Borum, Fein, Vossekuil, & Berglund, 1999; Borum, Fein, Vossekuil, Gelles, & Shumate, 2004).
  • Fein, R. A., & Vossekuil, B. (1998). Protective intelligence and threat assessment investigations: A guide for state and local law enforcement officials. Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice.
  • Borum, R., Fein, R., Vossekuil, B., & Berglund, J. (1999). Threat assessment: Defining an approach for evaluating risk of targeted violence. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 17, 323-337.
  • Borum, R., Fein, R., Vossekuil, B., Gelles, M., & Shumate, S. (2004). The role of operational research in counterterrorism. International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 17, 420-434.
How is Threat Assessment different than the practice of profiling?  Click here for more info
The threat assessment approach is distinct from the technique of profiling, which seeks to determine the type of individual most likely to commit a certain offense based on inferences made from crime scene characteristics (Holmes & Holmes, 1996). There is no empirical evidence to date that there is a psychological profile or personality pattern shared by all terrorists or politically motivated individuals who engage in disruptive behavior (Borum, 2004; Borum et al., 2004; Horgan, O’Sullivan, & Hammond, 2003). The few systematic extant databases that allow demographic comparisons of suicide terrorists, for example, find that they are as diverse as the populations from which come (Atran & Sageman, 2006). They are not poorer; they are not less educated; they are not more likely to come from dysfunctional homes; and they do not have higher rates of substance abuse than the populations from which they hail (Atran, 2003; Bond 2004; Hudson, 1999; Krueger & Maleckova, 2002). Rather than relying on profiles to assemble risk information, threat assessors rely on behavioral indicators in conjunction with environmental clues to assess motivations and other subject factors.
  • Atran, S. (2003). Genesis of suicide terrorism. Science, 299, 1534-1539.
  • Atran, S. & Sageman, M. (2006). Connecting the dots. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 62, 68-70.
  • Bond, M. (2004). The making of a suicide bomber. Retrieved February 22, 2007, from http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18224475.900-the-making-of-a-suicide-bomber.html.
  • Borum, R. (2004). Mental health issues in the criminal justice system. In B. L. Levin, J. Petrila & K. D. Hennessy (Eds.), Mental health services: A public health perspective (2nd ed.; pp. 293-309). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  • Borum, R., Fein, R., Vossekuil, B., Gelles, M., & Shumate, S. (2004). The role of operational research in counterterrorism. International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 17, 420-434.
  • Holmes RM, Holmes ST. Profiling violent crimes: An investigative tool (2nd ed.) (1996). Sage Publications, Inc.
  • Horgan, J., O'Sullivan, D., & Hammond, S. (2003). Offender profiling: A critical perspective. Irish Journal of Psychology, 24, 1-21.
  • Hudson, R. A. (1999). The sociology and psychology of terrorism: Who becomes a terrorist and why? Washington, DC: Library of Congress.
  • Kreuger, A., & Maleckoa, J. (2002). Education, poverty and political violence: Is there a connection? (No. NBER Working paper no. w9074). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Resarch.

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CLICK HERE to learn more about the team’s work researching psychological barriers to reporting potential threats of violence.