I meet often with concerned executives worried over patterns of troubling behavior from current or former associates. They know action is needed, usually recognize that the situation is fragile, and want to take the right steps to prevent an act of violence. Behavioral threat assessment is one of the first issues we help them understand.

As a discrete component of a comprehensive threat identification, assessment and management process, behavioral threat assessment can take one of two forms, depending on whether or not the assessor meets the subject of a given threat in person for the express purposes of evaluation. At Hillard Heintze, we refer to these two interventions as Indirect Threat Assessment and Direct Violence Risk Evaluation.

What is an Indirect Threat Assessment?

An indirect threat assessment – wherein the clinical psychologist and subject do not meet – is often the most fitting approach to gauging violence risk potential. This is particularly relevant when the subject is a former employee or a partner, customer, vendor or other third party. The violence risk potential and recommendations are based on a review of records and collateral interviews (e.g., current or former managers) which act as primary sources of information that assist the threat assessment. However, in the vast majority of cases, some case-specific data remains unknown.

What is a Direct Violence Risk Evaluation?

As with the indirect threat assessment, the violence risk potential and recommendations are based on a review of records and potential findings emerging from a background investigation. In addition, the Direct Violence Risk Evaluation includes an in-person interview with the subject and discretionary psychological testing. This data is then used to apply the Workplace Assessment of Violence Risk (WAVR-21, 3rd Edition) methodology.

A direct violence risk evaluation can shine a bright, powerful light on the mental state of a current employee or contractor. This degree of assessment can help determine the subject’s violence risk level and generate recommendations for the organization based on the subject’s current known mental state at the time of the evaluation.

Direct Evaluation is the Most Thorough Method

Where possible, direct evaluation is most effective. Contrary to what you might think, I’ve found that most subjects are agreeable to and relieved by a direct evaluation. Most want to share their story. Direct violence risk evaluations provide much more information – and higher assurance based on, for example:

  1. Crucial insights into the subject’s version of the story.
  2. Direct answers to the most important questions about the subject and the situation.
  3. Greater ability to gauge the subject’s responses to hypothetical scenarios to establish a post-evaluation plan.
  4. The potential for reduced threat risk through this structured interaction with the subject.

Preventing and managing workplace violence depends on appropriate intervention. Knowing when intervention may be needed – and the degree of intervention required – can mitigate risk and potentially save lives.

For More Information on Behavioral Threat Assessments

To learn more about behavioral threat assessment options, read our primer for executives, “Indirect Threat Assessments and Direct Violence Risk Evaluations – Understanding the Critical Difference.”