Orientation to Threat Risk Assessment and Management

Marvin W. Acklin, PhD, ABPP
Steven Taketa, PsyD
Date: February 15, 2018


Purpose of presentation: To provide participants with basic definitions, concepts, and tools in the structured professional judgment of targeted violence risk assessment and management.


  • Threat. Perceived possibility of harm, or statement conveying an intention to cause harm.
  • Violence. Any actual, attempted, or planned injury of other people; it is intentional, nonconsenting and without lawful authority.
  • Affective violence. Reactive, impulsive, defensive, emotional violence, preceded by autonomic arousal, caused by a reaction to a perceived threat, and accompanied by intense feelings of anger and/or fear. This is the most common mode of violence.
  • Predatory violence. Instrumental or offensive violence characterized by the absence of autonomic arousal and emotion, the absence of an imminent threat, and involving planning and preparation before the attack. This is typically a more dangerous and less common mode of violence.
  • Targeted violence. The operational term for predatory, instrumental, or offensive violence. Perpetrator’s preconceived their violence (focus on individuals, groups, or locations) and engage in behaviors that precede and are related to their attacks. They consider, plan, and prepare. These behaviors are often detectable, which provides an opportunity for disruption of the intended violence by utilizing a comprehensive, multidisciplinary assessment for assessment and intervention.
    • For our purposes the primary settings for targeted violence are: workplace, school, and public mass murder. Targeted violence may also be pertinent to domestic violence and stalking.
  • Structured professional judgment. An organizing methodology for conducting threat assessments that relies on clinical and/or operational expertise within a structured application or protocol; it operationally defines risk factors and allows for consideration of idiographic (case specific) risk factors, and focuses on threat management and prevention.
    • The WAVR-21, TRAP-18, and HCR-20 utilize structured professional judgment in developing risk assessment and management profiles. The ATAP RAGE V document provides a concise blueprint of threat assessment and management processes, “an exploration and explanation of interrelated processes and activities that will assist in evaluating the potential risk for future physical violence from a known individual, including those inspired are motivated by group philosophy or beliefs.” All threat risk assessment fits into the ATAP Core Competency Model: grievance, ideation, research and planning, preparation, breach, attack.

The pathway concept:

The pathway concept has become foundational in targeted violence and risk assessment. The purpose of threat assessment is the interruption of the pathway.


Workplace Assessment of Violence Risk-21 (WAVR-21).

The Workplace Assessment of Violence Risk (WAVR-21) is a 21-item coded instrument for the structured assessment of workplace and campus targeted violence risk.

WAVR-21 Risk Factor Items

  • Motives for Violence
  • Homicidal Ideas, Violent Fantasies or Preoccupation
  • Violent Intentions and Expressed Threats
  • Weapons Skill and Access
  • Pre-Attack Planning and Preparation
  • Stalking or Menacing Behavior
  • Current Job Problems
  • Extreme Job Attachment
  • Loss, Personal Stressors and Negative Coping
  • Entitlement and Other Negative Traits
  • Lack of Conscience and Irresponsibility
  • Anger Problems
  • Depression and Suicidality
  • Paranoia and Other Psychotic Symptoms
  • Substance Abuse
  • Isolation
  • History of Violence, Criminality, and Conflict
  • Domestic/Intimate Partner Violence
  • Situational and Organizational Contributors to Violence
  • Stabilizers and Buffers Against Violence
  • Additional Item: Organizational Impact
  • Organizational Impact of Real or Perceived Threats

Terrorist Radicalization Assessment Protocol (TRAP-18)

Based on open source sample of 111 lone-actor terrorists from the United States and Europe. Eight proximal warning behaviors and 10 distal characteristics for active risk management or active monitoring respectively.

Meloy’s warning behavior typology: “these are proximal and dynamic patterns which may indicate a rating risk for targeted violence. The warning behaviors are not discrete variables, but patterns for analysis.” The behavioral patterns are coded as present it if any pre-offense behaviors found to have a reasonably certain fit with the proper descriptions.

Pathway-subjects engage in various behaviors that encompass part of research, planning, or preparation for terrorist act or implementation of such an attack.

Fixation-certain behaviors indicate someone’s increasingly pathological preoccupation with the personal cause. There is an accompanying deterioration in relationships or occupational performance.

Identification-persons have a psychological desire to be a pseudo-commando or have a warrior mentality. This includes closely associating with weapons or other military or law enforcement paraphernalia, identify with previous attackers or assassins, or proclaiming themselves as ages to advance a particular cause or belief system.

Novel aggression-for the first time, subjects committed an act that appears unrelated to a pathway behavior: they do so to test her ability to become violent.

Leakage-when planning to harm a target through an attack, persons communicate such intent to a third-party.

Last Resort-subjects demonstrate through word or deed of violent action or time imperative or display increasing desperation or distress. 2 such individuals, there is no alternative other than violence, and the consequences are justified

Directly communicated threat-individuals communicated directly to the target or law enforcement before violent action.

Distal factors:

  • -personal grievance and moral outrage
  • -framed by an ideology
  • -failure to affiliate with an extremist group
  • -dependence on the virtual community
  • -thwarting of occupational goals
  • -failure of sexual-pair bonding
  • -changes in thinking and emotion
  • -history of mental disorder creativity and innovation
  • -history of criminal violence.


Historical-Clinical-Risk – 20 v. 3.

Version 3 of the HCR-20 is the latest version of a comprehensive set of professional guidelines for violence risk assessment and management based on the Structured Professional Judgement (SPJ) model. The HCR-20 was developed to help structured decisions about violence risk. Since the publication of Version 1 in 1995 and Version 2 in 1997, it has become the world’s most widely used and best validated violence risk assessment instrument. It has been translated into 20 languages and adopted or evaluated in more than 35 countries. Version3, developed over the past 5 years on the basis of extensive clinical beta testing and empirical evaluation, promises to be even more useful than its predecessors.

Items are coded as present or absent and with degree of relevance.

Historical      (10 items)

  • Violence
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Relationships
  • Employment
  • Substance use
  • Mental disorder
  • Personality disorder
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Violent attitudes
  • Treatment/supervision response

Clinical         (5 items)

  • Insight
  • Violent ideation/intent
  • Major Mental Disorder
  • Instability – affective, behavioral, cognitive
  • Treatment / Supervision Response

Risk Management (5 items)   

  • Professional Services
  • Living Situation
  • Personal Support
  • Treatment / Supervision Response
  • Stress / Coping






Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (2006). Risk Assessment Guideline Elements for Violence: Considerations for assessing the risk of future violent behavior.

Kevin S. Douglas, K. S., Hart, S. D., Webster, C. D., Belfrage, H., Guy, L.S., & Wilson, C. M. (2014).

Historical-Clinical-Risk Management-20, Version 3 (HCR-20V3): Development and Overview, International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 13, 2.

Meloy, J. R. (2016). Identifying warning behaviors of the individual terrorists. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.

Meloy, J. R., & Genzman, J. (2016). The clinical threat assessment of the lone-actor terrorist. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 39, 4, 649-662..

Meloy, J. R., & Gill, P. (2016). The loan-actor terrorist and the Trap-18. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 3, 1, 37-52.

Meloy, J. R., Hoffman, J., Et al. (2011). The role of warning behaviors and threat assessment: An exploration and suggested typology. Behavioral Sciences and the Law.

Meloy, J. R., & Pollard, J. W. (2017). Lone-actor terrorism and impulsivity. Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Meloy, J. R., White, S.G., & Hart, S. (2013). Workplace assessment of targeted violence risk: The development and reliability of the WAVR-21. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 58, 5, 1353-1358.

Meloy, J. R., & Yakley, J. (2014). The violent true believer as a lone wolf-Psychoanalytic perspectives on terrorism. Behavioral Sciences and the Law.

Simons, A., & Meloy, J. R. (2017). Foundations of Threat Assessment and Management. Handbook of Behavioral Criminology, Springer International Publishing.




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