Secret Services professionals spend far more time preparing for threats than responding to them. They are vigilant about seeking out and mitigating potential threats before they rise to a level where they pose an actual danger to those around them. As such, they are always on alert for individuals who pose a threat. An individual doesn’t have to make a threat to be a threat. Most individuals who commit acts of violence display warning signs before they commit their acts of violence. With a trained eye, it is possible to detect and respond to warning signs that may indicate an individual poses a threat. 

When we look back at individuals that have committed targeted acts of violence, we can often identify warning signs. Someone may have been noted to be going through extreme stress, have a history of not getting along well with others, or even known access to guns or other weapons. By paying attention to individuals who are exhibiting threatening behavior, you are acting proactively rather than waiting for something extreme to happen and reacting. Behaviors to watch for include:

  • Discussions on previous shootings/mass attacks
    • Empathy for an attacker
    • Sophistication/obsession with attacks
  • Veiled threats
    • “Everyone here is going to pay”
    • Words that indicate there could be a threat
    • “Don’t show up to work tomorrow”
    • “One of these days…”
  • Stalking
  • Weapons knowledge
  • Change in behavior
    • Becoming more isolated
    • Angry/political statements, easy to set off
    • Grooming changes 

Warning signs should be taken seriously and reported. Schools can act proactively by reaching out to those at risk and attempting to mitigate the situation. Schools should take warning signs seriously and create an environment that makes it easy for anonymous bystanders to report suspicious behavior. Counselors, Employee Assistance Programs, Annonymous reporting, and Threat Training can all play a role in keeping an eye out for violence.

A threat actor starts small and walks the path to violence. Proactivity can identify at-risk individuals and help move them off the path, onto another path of peace.