On June 14, 2018, I had the honor and privilege of instructing federal law enforcement agency personnel at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Charleston, South Carolina on enhanced interviewing skills for potentially violent subjects. After completing the FLETC training for the day, I happened to walk by the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where three years earlier, a gunman targeted a black congregation and killed nine churchgoers. The training I had just led was all about identifying a potentially violent perpetrator and here was a tangible example of why that work is so important.

For the past four decades, FLETC has focused on training law enforcement personnel dedicated to homeland security, which often includes countering hate crimes. At Hillard Heintze, we provide training and other behavioral threat assessment-related services to law enforcement agencies — and other security-related bodies — across the country to help them in their efforts to prevent future tragedies.

Core Training Principles

I spent the day discussing specialized behavioral and protective intelligence, as well as threat assessment interview training, with agents from all over the world.

Specifically, the training we conducted was intended to enhance law enforcement’s ability to efficiently gather information required for analyzing and managing potential threats. It covered concepts related to threat assessment and management principles in the context of extracting information during interviews. This is done to determine the level of concern and risk a given subject may pose for committing an act of violence or whether the subject is a security risk.

I provided instruction on how to conduct these challenging interviews. We used an interactive behavioral simulation method to emphasize and integrate complex threat assessment and protective intelligence concepts, as well as practice newly acquired skills.

My threat assessment colleagues from around the world, including fellow members of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP), know that teaching and learning the skills needed to assess a targeted individual’s potential for violence is the key to preventing violence and not just an academic exercise. Once an assessment is made, we develop a plan to monitor the individual and intervene, as appropriate, to prevent an attack. Attention to the individual’s motives and attack-related behaviors, and to the familial, community and social systems with which the individual is involved, are essential to preventing an incident.

Honoring the Fallen in Charleston

Walking by the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last week, the site of a local tragedy with national implications, touched me deeply. I would like us all to remember the nine people who welcomed the subject into their church to worship peacefully before the attack, but ultimately lost their lives that day three years ago:

  • Clementa Pinckney, 41, the church’s pastor and a state senator
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a minister and coach of the girl’s track team at Goose Creek High School, according to a Facebook post by the school
  • Cynthia Hurd, 54, a librarian at the Charleston County Public Library
  • Tywanza Sanders, 26, a 2014 graduate of Allen University, which Pinckney also attended
  • Susie Jackson, 87, a longtime member of the church
  • Ethel Lance, 70, a sexton at the church
  • Depayne Middleton, 49, a mother of four who was also a singer in the church choir
  • Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a retired pastor from another church in Charleston
  • Myra Thompson, 59, the wife of a vicar at Holy Trinity REC

Tragedies like these, particularly those committed by an individual who has previously demonstrated prejudice and intention to harm others, should never occur. As a nation, we have the knowledge and capability to prevent these acts. Collectively, we need to do a better job at doing so.