What is a Threat?

A threat is an expression of intent to do harm or act out violently against someone or something. A threat can be:

    • Spoken
    • Written
    • Symbolic
      • For example, motioning with one's hands as though shooting at another person in the right context could be considered a threat.

Types of Threats

Direct threat identifies a specific act against a specific target and is delivered in a straightforward, clear, and explicit manner:

    • "I am going to place a bomb in the school's gym."

Indirect threat tends to be vague, unclear, and ambiguous. The plan, the intended victim, the motivation, and other aspects of the threat are masked or equivocal:

    • "If I wanted to, I could kill everyone at this school!" While violence is implied, the threat is phrased tentatively.
    • "If I wanted to“and suggests that a violent act COULD occur, not that it WILL occur.

Veiled threat is one that strongly implies but does not explicitly threaten violence.

    • We would be better off without you around anymore"
    • Clearly hints at a possible violent act, but leaves it to the potential victim to interpret the message and give a definite meaning to the threat.

Conditional threat is the type of threat often seen in extortion cases.

    • It warns that a violent act will happen unless certain demands or terms are met:
    • "If you don't pay me one million dollars, I will place a bomb in the school."

Motivation behind threats

Motivation can never be known with complete certainty, but to the extent possible, understanding motive is a key element in evaluating a threat. We must Keep things in context and assess each threat on its own merits. Threat assessment rests on two critical principles:

    1. All threats and all threateners are not equal
    2. Most threateners are unlikely to carry out their threat. However, all threats must be taken seriously and evaluate

Threats are made for a variety of reasons:

    • Warning signal
    • Reaction to fear of punishment or some other anxiety
    • Demand for attention.
    • It may be intended to taunt; to intimidate
    • To assert power or control
    • To punish; to manipulate or coerce; to frighten
    • To terrorize; to compel someone to do something; to strike back for an injury, injustice or slight
    • To disrupt someone's or some institution's life; to test authority, or to protect oneself.

The emotions that underlie a threat can be:

    • Love
    • Hate
    • Fear
    • Rage
    • Desire for attention
    • Revenge
    • Excitement
    • Recognition

Threat Assessment and Management

Threat assessment and management is a method used to identify precisely, the risks and all the probable effects that those risks will have on the person(s) and/or organization being protected, to minimize that risk to an acceptable level and the proper implementation of measures to deal with the remaining elements associated with that risk. Risk cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed. Risk can be reduced to a manageable level through the proper risk analysis research and assimilation of data. Use the observation and orientation phase of the Boyd Cycle, to determine risk level.

High a threat that appears to pose an imminent and serious danger to the safety of others.

    • Threat is direct, specific and plausible.
    • Threat suggests concrete steps have been taken toward carrying it out, for example,
    • Statements indicating that the threateners has acquired or practiced with a weapon or has had the victim under surveillance.
    • EXAMPLE: "At eight o'clock tomorrow morning, I intend to shoot the principal. That's when he is in the office by himself. I have a 9mm. Believe me, I know what I am doing. I am sick and tired of the way he runs this school."

Medium A threat which could be carried out, although it may not appear entirely realistic.

    • Threat is more direct and more concrete than a low level threat.
    • Wording in the threat suggests that the threatener has given some thought to how the act will be carried out.
    • There may be a general indication of a possible place and time (though these signs still fall well short of a detailed plan).
    • There is no strong indication that the threatener has taken preparatory steps, although there may be some veiled reference or ambiguous or inconclusive evidence pointing to that possibility
    • An allusion to a book or movie that shows the planning of a violent act, or a vague, general statement about the availability of weapons.
    • There may be a specific statement seeking to convey that the threat is not empty:
    • "I'm serious!" or "I really mean this!"

Low, a threat which poses a minimal risk to the victim and public safety.

    • Threat is vague and indirect.
    • Information contained within the threat is inconsistent, implausible or lacks detail.
    • Threat lacks realism.
    • Content of the threat suggests person is unlikely to carry it out.

After the assessment is made, what’s needed is a thorough implementation of measures (DECIDE and ACT) designed to avoid reduce, or eliminate remaining factors associated with the risk determined by the assessment. Active monitoring (MODERATE/HIGH RISK) and passive monitoring (LOW RISK) will be necessary.

Remember circumstance can change. Remember TIME is also a critical factor. When time is plenty, do our homework and as thorough and assessment as can be done. If time is short implicit and rapid decision making must be done on the fly to meet and stop the threat from being carried out. Judgments must be made and risk is inherent in threat assessments. People are unpredictable and complex and are capable of adapting quickly. We must be better at them. Initiative in doing assessments is critical. Threat/Risk assessment is both art and science.

Each episode of conflict is the temporary result of a unique combination of circumstances, presenting a unique set of problems and requiring an original solution.

We must have flexibility of thought. Success depends on ability to adapt to changing events. We must be vigilant and constantly observe, orient, decide and act if we are to be affective.

I would love your comments and feedback on this short version of human threats and threat assessment. You can sound off in the comments section or at fred@lesc.Net . Also keep in mind LESC presents workshops on this topic.

Stay Oriented!


Workplace Violence Prevention Adaptive Strategies.pdf64.65 KB