Meeting the Subject of a Threat Assessment: Is it Always Necessary?
When assessing a threat in the workplace, it isn't always necessary to meet with the subject in question, says Dr. Steve Albrecht.
Thu, October 17, 2013
CSO — We know it takes a team effort and a multidisciplinary approach to solve the complex problem of workplace violence prevention. All successful threat assessments require both information and conversation. We must know as much as possible about the subject making the threat and his or her intended targets. And we must be able to communicate with as many people as we can (with confidentiality in mind, of course) to ask questions, get answers, and develop our potential solutions. Threat assessment is a team approach in every respect, because the decisions either come from or affect so many stakeholders.
So if we agree that threat assessment is a collective effort and that we must get information from multiple sources, it's time to answer a question that has been posed to security professionals: Can you do an accurate threat assessment without actually meeting the subject?
I believe the short answer is yes. This question was posed to me during a meeting at an organization where I was gathering information about the troubling behavior of an employee. I had met with many of his colleagues, discussed his behavior and employment history with his supervisors, read his ranting and disconnected e-mails, and even sat in quietly and anonymously during a large staff meeting where he tried to bully the group. In short, I had a full picture of the man I was assessing.
During my meeting with one of his co-workers, who happened to be a non-practicing licensed psychologist, this person said, rather dismissively of my efforts, "I could never do a threat assessment without actually interviewing the subject. Don't you plan to talk to him?"
I replied, "Talking to the subject is very useful in many situations. I do it whenever it's possible and helps my process. In this case, I believe my conversation with him would only make things worse, based on his described level of paranoia." I believe I may have also added, "I don't need to be a meteorologist to know when it's raining outside," but I'm not sure if I said this out loud.
I certainly agree with the clinician's point; it's always helpful to get the threatener's perspective, right from his or her own mouth. It's always good to see this person in an interview situation and make certain assumptions about his or her seriousness, sobriety, need for or lack of control, blaming, targeting, remorse, anger, tone, escalation, cadence, or plans.