Content warning: Discussions of violence
Troubling behavior can be an early indicator of workplace or campus violence. In this 30-minute workshop we walk you through how to objectively assess “red flags” using the Workplace Assessment of Violence Risk (WAVR-21™) methodology. Joining us will be Dr. Stephen White, a co-developer of WAVR-21™.
- Learn more about the WAVR-21™ methodology from one of the creators
- Walk through a sample case outlining the steps required for threat assessment
- See how Resolver’s WAVR-21™ Violence Threat Assessment App enables you to perform an assessment with technology
- Learn practical tactics to be able to identify threats in your organization immediately
A transcript of this webinar follows:
How to Perform Workplace Violence Threat Assessments Using WAVR-21™ Methodology
HOST: Brian McElravy:
Okay. Good afternoon, everyone and good morning to our friends on the West Coast. Welcome to today’s web seminar, Threat Assessments 101: Understanding the Red Flags of Workplace Violence. My name’s Brian McElravy, I’m the executive vice president and GM of our corporate security division here at Resolver. And on behalf of Resolver marketing, I’ll be your host moderator for today’s session.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Resolver, let me give you the brief. Over a thousand organizations around the world depend on Resolver security, risk and compliance software to plan, prepare, respond and recover to protect what matters. That’s people, property and information. We serve customers across all kinds of industries, all kinds of business needs with tools ranging from risk assessment, enterprise, risk management, internal audit, incident investigation management software, incident response, recently business resilience and of course, threat management.
So with that first, let me say thank you for taking the time to attend today’s presentation. I know everyone has busy schedule, so we certainly appreciate your time today. We literally have hundreds of people in this session, so it shows a significant interest in this topic. Threats of violence come in many different forms, we all know that. And the greatest challenges, knowing which threats pose a real risk of violence, what are the red flags to look for? What steps should you take? That’s the discussion we have on tap for you today.
But before we get started, just a few things I want to cover with you for some brief tour of the navigation’s here. In front of you, if you are signed in and hearing this audio correctly, you should see the presentation panel in front of you. It says Threat Assessments 101: Understanding the Red flags. At the bottom of that screen, if you take your mouse, move your cursor over, you won’t see it on here. But on yours, you’ll see some tools at the bottom. One of those tools is called the Q&A button.
As we go through the presentation, if you have any questions, we are on a one way voice so you can hear us, we will not be able to hear you. So what I’ll ask you to do is click that Q&A button, type in your question into the window and submit it to us. That’s going to come over and we will answer your questions at the end of the session during our Q&A.
So before we get started with threat assessments and understanding the red flags, let me introduce our two fabulous speakers to you. Today we have two very well accomplished and respected gentlemen. First, Dr. Stephen White. Dr. White is a psychologist who has dedicated his entire career to threat assessment and workplace violence prevention. He’s the president of Workplace Trauma Services. He has consulted on thousands, literally thousands of threat cases in his career for fortune 500 companies, government, law enforcement, universities, you name it.
He’s contributed his expertise and experience to both the FBI and the ASIS International to develop their public guidelines for workplace violence prevention. He is also the co-author of the Workplace Assessment of Violence Risk known as WAVR-21™, which you’re going to hear quite a bit about today. The first and most widely recognized, scientifically based structured professional judgment guide for assessing workplace violence risk. Excellent program that you’ll hear about today.
Also, joining Dr. White is his colleague, Dr. Reid Meloy. Dr. Meloy, is a forensic psychologist, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. He too has consulted on countless criminal and civil cases. He’s authored or co-authored over 250 peer-reviewed journals, 11 books. He’s been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, New York Times. All kinds of magazines, including GQ Magazine. Take a look at that smile up there, is he not a GQ man? For sure.
Finally, he consults with the FBI, Behavioral Analysis Unit and was also the technical consultant for the TV show CSI. So people, if there were two guys that you wanted to have at hand to talk workplace violence and threat assessment, it does not get much better than Dr. Meloy and Dr. White. And let me tell you they’re both great guys. So with that, Dr. White, Dr. Meloy, this show is all yours. Over to you.
Dr. Stephen G. White:
Okay. Hello everyone, this is Stephen White. Thank you for joining us. I’m going to take about the first 10 minutes of this session, and I’m going to go over, just highlight some of the fundamentals about threat assessment in order organizational context. Best practices, do’s and don’ts. And then we’ll get into the role of structured guides and of course, especially the WAVR-21™, which Reid and I have developed. And we’ll have a Q&A session at the end. We’re going to illustrate these things through a case, which is a good way in the short session to just show how these principles apply.
So what we know now is that this may seem very complicated, but violence risk, it is complex but it is comprehensible and it can be managed. And we have learned a great deal about both the individual risk factors, as well as organizational factors that contribute to violence. And protocols do exist and have been developed for dealing with these multiple scenarios that may come to attention.
A case study on assessing workplace violence threat
Dr. Stephen G. White:
Now, here’s a case and I’m just going to read it here. And if you can minimize my photos there on the right a little bit or move them over. But anyway, this is a hairy case, and I’ll just read it to you. Agnes, is a young associate in a client group and she requests an urgent meeting with her HR manager. She comes into the office, she’s very anxious in trouble. And near tears, Agnes says, “This is very hard for me but I have to tell you this. I can’t keep it to myself any longer. I’ve been having an affair with Jerry, my manager. He’s married you know and I want to get out of the relationship. But he’s threatened me and says things like ‘If I can’t have you, nobody will.'”
Now, Agnes confides that Jerry alludes to having firearms and he’s physically abused his wife in the past. The police have been to their house. And Agnes adds that some of the coworkers in their department are aware of the personal relationship between the two of them. Some fear for her safety, as well as their own. Some resent her for the favors that Jerry has extended her. And the manager knows that Jerry’s rumor to be manipulative, intimidating, selfish, dishonest bully. He may have driven his previous boss to quit, hasn’t been consistently disciplined.
Agnes has said, “He told me if he loses his job over this, he’ll have nothing left. I’m scared.” She asks that he’ll never know all this stuff. And then she rushes out the door. She says, “I’m afraid his whole life is falling apart.” And off she goes. So you see this situation. There’s a technical term for it, it’s called a mess and there’s lots going on but we are about safety first. So these are the questions that would confront you as you think about this case.
Principles for threat assessments in workplace violence
How would you estimate Jerry’s risk for violence? How did you get to that conclusion? How does your organization assess risk? What do you see as viable alternatives? Can your practice with stand scrutiny? These are important in this day and age. We’ll come back to this. There’s a few contextual factors to point out. One is a cultural script, which is sort of a fancy sociological term for the copy cat phenomenon that we’re all familiar with. And these fellows at the bottom here are some you would recognize. The Columbine shooters, Mr. Cho from Virginia Tech and the fellow on the left is one of the first postal shooters.
But these individuals understand that they can have a certain impact, and be notorious if they carry out these horrible acts and they’ve studied previous assassins. So we’re all aware of this. The other factor is there’s a great deal of fear and disruption that can follow from a threat case, regardless of how objectively it may pose a risk. So we’re always dealing with that. The other dilemma is these are low probability events, difficult to find the hot ones. So they’re catastrophic of course, when they happen. So you have sort of a haystack phenomenon statistically and operationally. So these are things that we have to keep in mind.
This is a graphic of the well-known pathway to violence, which has been valid over and over. I won’t go into the stages here. You can see what they are, how someone goes from a grievance all the way up. They plan these things, they escalate to the final attack. Note the big point here, people do not snap, they decide. This is cold predatory, planned violence. People leave signs and that’s what assessment is all about.
Now in a successful program, these are just the highlights of what exists. You have a policy, of course, that you take these things seriously. You have a team in place, it’s multidisciplinary. They’ve been trained, they have links to experts. There’s also a well-defined and presented reporting protocol and process. So people know who to call and what’s going to happen basically. And there’s organizational wide awareness of this policy, and the program and how it works. It’s proactive, not reactive.
Common challenges when assessing the threat of workplace violence
Here’s some of the common challenges. The silo effect, information is there. This is information driven, this process but information is hidden. It’s in silos. People know things, they don’t recognize what it may, they don’t report it. So therefore nobody can connect all the dots. Missing a hot one, of course is the biggest mistake that nobody wants to make. So we have to be prepared to catch those. But another common fallacy is that people will over respond if they don’t have training and readiness. And people who are prepared to deal with this, they can over respond to what we refer to as the nothingburger, and waste time and resources on things that aren’t that serious.
And you can’t do this over and over, you’ve got to be more efficient. The hasty termination is another related phenomenon where for instance, somebody says, “Well Jerry, made a threat and he’s a certainly a despicable person, we have to protect the workplace. We’ll fire him and get him out of here. And that’s our response.” Well, the problem is that if Jerry could pose a risk, you may have triggered him and that’s where the last box comes in. Unintended consequences.
No matter what we do to prevent violence, it could suppress aggression in violence, it could work. But it also could have no effect because the fellow just isn’t going to be violent, or he is going to be violent unless you physically stop him. And finally, you can make things worse. You can agitate a situation unnecessarily by taking some measure that is not necessary. And that brings us back to assessment.
Strategic guidelines for workplace violence threat assessments
Now, finally here are just some of the strategic guidelines. There are emergencies of course, but what we’ve learned over and over in almost all cases, you can slow down, assess first, take an hour, an hour and a half to gather the relevant data get an initial hypothesis about the case. Anticipate triggering events like a termination or a rejection of some kind. Now, it’s always true with terminations you want to protect people’s dignity. It’s even more important with these individuals who are vulnerable to the risk.
You want to avoid shaming, protect their dignity as much as you can, do not overreact and go to war if you don’t need to. Of course, there are times when you have to be very tough and firm. But this is where judgment and deliberation come in. We’re always going to need judgment in these situations, even though we’re using tools to help us, evidence based tools, that’s where the structure guides and the WAVR-21™ come in. We are not profiling individuals, we’re not predicting violence, we are managing behaviors of concern in the present.
This is just a list of the common intervention options. Note again, it says no cookbook. Judgment deliberation are always necessary. But these are the tools that are common in threat assessment. Background checks when appropriate, collateral interviews are very important with witnesses managers, et cetera. Obviously, the interview with a subject or employee of concern, professional assessments like Reid and I do. We may have an opportunity to help with diffusing in those scenarios, protective orders, security law enforcement, assistance, treatment, voluntary, involuntary.
And all of these things, they can work or not work very well. Again, that’s why we always talk about the pros and cons of doing these various actions. And no one-size-fits-all, there’s different ways to resolve these things including servants packages, et cetera. In many cases, we’re wanting people to just move on and again, this takes lots of discussion. So this is just the list of the options and some of the principles here.
Who should perform threat assessments for workplace violence?
Now, one other point I want to make is… Of course, this makes you ask, who should assess what? We are not so-called experts who believe you have to call us every time or somebody like us when you have an issue or you’re concerned. This is impractical, especially the larger organizations or universities get. You have to have a team that has skills and can at least screen cases, do triage. You take it as far as you are comfortable and as far as you are competent, then you have links to so-called experts when you need them. But this is an interdisciplinary process.
Intuitively security is involved, human resources, judicial affairs, employment attorneys, as well the assessment experts. And there’s a blend of specialties that makes for a better process that takes into all these different perspectives and the expertise that different people have. And finally, just an indirect assessment is when people like us are just looking at what the data is and it’s available. A direct assessment includes the face-to-face interview with individual of concern.
Okay. So that’s just an overview of some of those principles. The case of Jerry, keep that in mind, you could see that he has lots of obvious warning signs, that we’re going to come back to as we talk about the WAVR-21™ and how we assess Jerry. And how we also use the new Resolver app that we’re very excited about and using the app to further the assessment of Jerry in this case. And we’ll come back to that case. Okay, Reid.
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Thanks, Steve. What I wanted to do was to talk you a little bit about the WAVR-21™ and put it in the context of the science in this field. These are basically called structured professional judgment guides and what they do is they help us organize our thinking. You don’t score these, they’re not quantified. What you’re doing instead is you’re gathering data based upon the research that tells us those data points are related to workplace violence. And then you’re thinking about that data in a rational way. Or trying to get emotion on the sideline and the structured professional judgment guide, like the WAVR-21™ helps us do that.
This is rapidly becoming the standard of practice. It allows us to identify factors that are related to violence risk and have been shown to be so, but also not pay attention to factors which are unrelated to violence risk. And we also know that these guides in the context of a threat assessment team will help us improve the consistency of the work that we do. It keeps it very transparent, it allows for continuity of assessment and also continuity of management as the case dynamically unfolds over time.
Now, there are a number of structured professional judgment guide. Steve and I are very pleased that the WAVR-21™ has made its mark as the guide to use in the workplace. Here is listing a couple of others that we wanted to bring out to you. There’s probably about 60 structured professional guides throughout forensic psychology and psychiatry. The HCRV3 is one of the granddaddy risk assessment instruments. The new Stalking Risk Profile. The Spousal Assault Risk Assessment is specific to domestic violence. The Risk of Sexual Violence.
A new instrument that I’ve developed the Terrorist Radicalization Assessment Protocol, the TRAP-18. And then of course our instrument here at the bottom, the WAVR-21™, which has been the basis for the development of the Threat Assessment app with Resolver. Now here is a look just very, very briefly, the third edition. This came out in 2016. The first one was in 2007. But as we see in all of science, as you develop instruments they’re always a work in progress.
Pathways to violence: Who commits workplace violence?
And so this is our third edition, but we’re very excited because we think it’s the most substantial and also allows for the integration of new research, which has been done in this particular field. And then we’ve expanded it to explicitly include a campus university college. What our focus is in this instrument is specifically on targeted violence. And you saw Steve talk about the pathway to violence. And this is not violence that’s emotionally driven. When these individuals begin to plan and prepare for their active violence, they’re actually feeling very calm and very collected.
In fact, in the individuals I’ve interviewed that have committed mass murder in the workplace and in other places, typically they describe a very calm and methodical emotional state as they progress. We’ve also had that confirmed by people that have witnessed these events. So this whole notion that people are highly emotional when they do these acts is just not true. And the research clearly supports that. The WAVR-21™ also address a broader network of other kinds of behaviors such as bullying, stalking and maliciousness. We’ve tried to make in a sense, the target population.
These would be people in your community, whether you’re in a corporate setting or a university setting, these would be people that could potentially be threatened. And that becomes in a sense, your community of concern. And then also the WAVR-21™ can be a gateway instrument leading to the use of more specific instruments that are key in a case. For instance, you’ll see on the WAVR that one of the items is specific to psychopathic personality.
And there, if you did a case where you realized that you had a psychopathic individual, that you were concerned about in your setting, that you might want a much more fuller evaluation, just using that particular instrument. So the WAVR-21™ gives you a lens through which you look at the person initially, and then perhaps even use other instruments as a way to refine and deepen your evaluation of that person of concern. Now, here are the risk factors. And given the brevity of the time that we’re able to spend with you today, I just wanted to have you take a look at these. And these risk factors essentially, remain unchanged from the first WAVR-21™.
We’ve made some adjustments in the version three, but the fundamentals of these 21 items are very, very stable. We call this red flag indicators as the name of this particular one hour training. And I want to highlight for you that the red flag indicators on the WAVR-21™ are the first five items you’ll see on the left. Motives for violence, homicidal fantasies, preoccupations and identifications. Threatening communication or expressed intent.
Typically, threats come into two forms. They’re either direct threats or they’re what we call leakage, where a person communicates their intent to a third party that they’re going to attack a target. A fourth is weapon skill and access, where very interested in the degree to which the person has developed skill in the use of firearms, explosive devices or cutting instruments. And then number five is pre-attack planning and preparation. And that’s one of the late stage markers in the pathway that Steve showed you.
Now, those are in a sense, the hot button evaluation points that we’re looking at in every case. And if you don’t have any of those and you’ve thoroughly investigated, you can breathe a sigh relief. And then you can take your time to continue to evaluate the case, it’s not imminent. And then you’ll notice all these other factors are in a sense, more distal or more distant from an act of targeted violence yet, the research tells us, do correlate with targeted violence.
The scientific basis for the WAVR-21™ Threat Assessment Framework
And I’ll let you just take a look at those and we’ll be revisiting these in just a little bit toward the end of the talk. Now, the scientific basis for the WAVR-21™ is something that I’m very interested in. This is slow work, it has to be methodical, the papers have to be reviewed by science journals. We began by looking at our experience as well as the experience of others, as well as all the research on what are the violence risk factors in the workplace. We looked at our accumulated professional practice, as well as our colleagues.
Once we had assembled the instrument, we did our initial reliability studies. We had a good to excellent inter-rater reliability on the instrument. Simply put what that means, that people generally agree on how to code each of the items on a particular case. And then the other thing that’s very is that we have a validity study that’s been submitted that was done independently of us by the University of Nebraska. And this is a study where we look at cases where there are known outcomes for the case, but then the coders don’t know what those outcomes are, yet they have all the other data on the case.
And for the statistical folks that are watching this, we had an area under the curve of 0.70 as a predictive validity indicator telling us that this instrument is right in the ballpark with where we want it to be in terms of its predictive ability in looking at whether a case would turn out to be or not. And so that’s very exciting for us. We expect that study to be in press when we hear from the authors of it within the next six to nine months. Now, practically speaking, in terms of threat assessment and teamwork, we’re very much focused on interdisciplinary teams.
The days of—in a sense—the Lone Ranger going out and taking care of all threats in the company are gone. That is substandard practice now. We need to focus on the development of interdisciplinary teams. And then what the WAVR-21™ does, whether you’re using the threat app or using the printed edition, is it helps you to focus just on risk-relevant information. And in a sense, take the emotion out of the case and allow people to think about objective evidence in the case.
And to investigate it further to see whether or not it is present for each of the 21 items. And we’re always trying to disconfirm our hypothesis from a science perspective. In other words, we’re testing to see if there is also no information on a particular item, and we want to pay close attention to that. This also helps us with transparency of the work that we’re doing. For too long our threat assessment in corporate settings has been fairly subjective.
And a lot of people have brought in their personal experiences in making judgements. Science has told us that does not work, that has poor reliability and validity. But what does work is when you structure your professional judgment and this also, for instance, with the app in particular. It allows you to be recording in real-time as a case moves forward in one particular place that is secure, all the information and evidence that’s being gathered, when it’s being gathered and how that translates into a coding level for a particular item.
That transparency is very important, particularly if there are civil suits that arise out of a particular case. This is an area where I do work at as an expert. And now the questions are always, what did you know? When did you know it? How is that information communicated? Where is that information recorded? And this is very important in the ongoing work of threat assessment teams. And will continue to be more important as it becomes embedded as a standard of practice in threat assessment in the workplace.
And finally, you see the third point here. This really demonstrates the reasonableness of the organization and the actions that the organization has taken. I’m going to kick things over now back to Steve. And we’re going to talk specifically about the threat application. Steve?
How Resolver integrates the WAVR-21 Threat Assessment App
Dr. Stephen White:
Okay. Thank you, Reid. So now we’re going to talk about the WAVR-21™ and the WAVR Threat Assessment app, and in the context of the case about Jerry. You could see intuitively again, Jerry made threats, he’s being rejected by Agnes. He’s going to be exposed. His personality is not very attractive as a responsible individual and you would sense this. And yet with the WAVR-21™ and other SPJs, again this gives you evidence based structure. And with the app, I can tell you already as I use it’s saving me time, things are more organized. It’s much easier to keep track of chronology of events as well as actions.
So let’s look at the app here in the context of the Jerry case and how it works. We go to the New Case Queue here, and this is where you enter initial information and incident report. Now, people in your community can… There’s a portal to report of course, in our “see something, say something” world, they report these incidents. And an individual sends this message to the team or the screener. “Jerry allegedly threatened Agnes that she broke off their relationship.” Of course, this is a summary, a person could say more. You name the individuals, “is reported by Michelle,” also it can be reported anonymously.
The dates, so we have the structure here, it’s all in one place. And then also a quick screening page, which the WAVR-21™ includes. So the person who’s screening these cases can look at these five clear indicators. Most of them related to the red flags that Reid talked about. For instance, are there threats or expressed ideas to harm? In this case, yes. And you can say yes, no or unsure. If it’s yes, it’s red. Behaviors that cause concern, obviously that’s a yes, in this situation. The subject has access to weapons or attempted to gain. We put down yes, in this case.
Now, granted in case investigation, initial reports, the behaviors are alleged. We have to keep in mind that word—it’s alleged. Let’s assume we confirmed this, but we put it “Yes,” we might have put “Unsure” and then it changed to a “Yes.” Bizarre thinking or distinctly irrational suspiciousness. Now, this is language that describes psychosis and in the WAVR-21™, third edition, one thing we did, we talk about psychosis very specifically and how it relates to violence. But we don’t have the item labeled paranoia or psychotic phenomenon like we did in previous edition. We put in “irrational thinking,” “bizarre thinking,” “extreme suspiciousness.”
This helps nonclinical people avoid looking like they’re assessing people inappropriately and therefore possibly discriminating. In any case back to Jerry. He’s not “crazy” in simple language. I don’t think he is. He might be, we’ll determine later. But let’s say in this case, no. So we say “No.” Are there circumstances or anticipated events that might affect the likelihood? Absolutely, it’s possible Jerry could lose his job. That’s another loss piled onto him, so that’s a “Yes.”
Now, Response Priority Level. This is not the same as risk level or level of concern about risk. But how significant is this case in dealing with it in a timely fashion? Our judgment was it’s high priority case because you can’t let this sit until Tuesday. We don’t know how fast things might be moving in this situation. So then we go to the Assessment Worksheet and there’s a very comprehensive intake document with the WAVR V3 and with the app, which has been expanded from V2. But let’s take a look at how we would start an assessment with the worksheet.
So put in the name, the date of the assessment, who it was assigned to… This was assigned to me. I was contacted by the company. Remember that assessments have a short shelf life, they’re dynamic, they go back and forth between the intervention and then an updated assessment. We did an initial assessment. And then let’s look at the worksheet here. Let’s assume we’ve moved down the line here and this is an assessment later on say, after we collected a lot of collateral data and also did an assessment meeting with Jerry per se.
We have the coding information again, identifying the situation. This is item number one, “Motives for Violence.” Is Jerry motivated (or some individual actually motivated) for some reason to act violently. Is it revenge? Is it to bring attention to a problem, notoriety? Is it some reason particular to the individual that motivates them to actually be violent? If it’s not a motive for violence, then what is the explanation for the behavior? We explain all this in the manual. For instance, he might be saying these things to Agnes threatening her, just to control her. “If you leave me, I’ll find you. If I can’t have you, nobody will.”
Is he just trying to keep her from leaving as opposed to he really means it? And that’s the work of fuller assessment. So here’s item number one, “Motives for Violence.” And we would mark that as “Present.” Down the road, let’s assume that Jerry does have that motive. And so we would mark that as such. And then we go down all through the list. We make notes: “he threatened her.” And we would fill this in as we develop it, we say, “Based on the interview, Jerry clearly had these ideas of killing Agnes, then himself. He wants to end the whole thing.” In a homicide suicide, it is not uncommon in the intimate partner violence scenarios and they can happen. Although they can happen in the workplace, but they’re infrequent.
But anyway, this all gets entered into the notes section, and on the worksheet and then it’s coded “Present” here. Why isn’t it “Prominent?” Well, it could be “Prominent” and it depends on the individual. And again, these things can change. And here’s the simple definitions that are in the manual that describe “Absent,” “Present” and “Prominent” for any case that you’re working on. And we recognize that some of you may be thinking, well, my goodness, I don’t have time to do this for everything that comes across my desk. Well, that’s where your judgment comes in. And as Reid has said, you’re accountable and you need to show a rational process is to document it.
Are you sure you should not spend more time with this case and make that things are documented? And that you showed a rational process for screening and assessment conferring when appropriate. Okay. So there’s just the first item. The app goes down into all the other items, of course. The WAVR-21™, you don’t add them up to cumulatively, mathematically you integrate and weigh them. This is not a psychological test, but as a structured guide of course, as we’ve explained. And you have to look in each case, how does a particular item relate to the other items? A person… they could own guns and be proficient. But they don’t have any trouble right now, they just happen to own guns. Well, then it’s not really an indicator of risk.
But if Jerry gets a gun, or another gun or starts practicing at the range, then that’s different. He’s on item five, “Pre-attack planning.” Now this is Jerry’s WAVR-21™ later on. Okay. And the red ones we decided in this case, after all the evidence that these were the indicators that were “Prominent” or “Present.” He’s made threats, he has a motive. He does have the skill, stalking or menacing behavior. Number five: “Pre-attack planning,” that one it’s “Present,” but also to a certain extent, all of these have insufficient information and we always want to know more. So we may indicate that along with the item.
If it’s gray, it’s like it’s not there. He’s not somebody who’s immersed in violent media, like a potential mass murder. He’s not that kind of guy, but he’s clearly thinking about violence and planning it. “Menacing behavior,” he does have a current job or academic problem. Let’s say in this case, he wasn’t all that attached to his job, but he could be. And that’s a very important indicator with the WAVR-21™ is, how attached? If somebody loses their job is it the end of their world or would Jerry just want to move along? He says, “I’ll get another job. Just let me out of here.” He may want to resign. These are all the questions.
But extreme job or academic attachment is very important in organizational risk assessment. Adding academic, seven and eight is one of the changes by the way, with WAVR 3. Clearly Jerry has losses, seven, eight, nine are what we call “the lost triad.” He’s got significant losses. Let’s say he was drinking and just blaming everybody else, that would be negative coping. He’s not being smart about it. He’s got entitlement issues, he’s self-centered. Lack of conscience and irresponsibility that the psychopathy indicator on the WAVR-21™. We might evaluate him on the continuum. There he’s a least irresponsible, anger problems. Yes. Suicidality, depressive mood.
And on down the list, things that are “Absent,” “Present” or “Prominent,” depending on all the data that we gathered. And again, this can all be put into the app where the screener or the assessor, depending on what stage we’re in, the case can integrate these things. Coming up with an initial opinion and intermediate opinion, a later on opinion. Notice number 20 is “Stabilizers and Buffers,” this is the good news in a case. These are the indicators that suggest somebody is less likely to be violent. They have positive attachments—they have a family, they have a conscience, they apologize. They get a lawyer, they do smart things or they have a moral compass that says,”I would never do that. That’s not me even if I make threats.”
So 20 is also very important, the “Protective Factors.” If you don’t look at those, you may tend to overestimate risk. That’s been shown in the research. And finally, 21: “Organizational impact of real or perceived threats.” That’s not a risk or protective factor per se, but we’re always dealing with the fear and disruption, as I mentioned earlier. So we code that on the WAVR-21™. Are people missing work? Are their spouses calling and saying, “Why don’t you do something about that horrible person, Jerry, before he harms my spouse?” These are all disruptive things that you have to keep track of if you’re managing them in a parallel manner with the case.
And so we just coded that on the WAVR-21™ as important source of information. I do want to mention 19: “Situational Organizational Contributors.” These are the external factors. In Jerry’s case, nobody’s paying attention to Jerry. Hasn’t been managed. If there’s no program, no protocol, by definition that’s a risk factor. You’re in a reactive versus a proactive stance. So that’s a crucial item on the WAVR-21™. So there’s an overview in this case of WAVR-21™ factors related to Jerry or others as well. And now I think… What do we have next? This is our concluding statement before we get to Q&A. Identify the issues before they become incidents. Be proactive, when you see something, say something and do something.
World, unfortunately that’s the way things are. But these tools and these processes, they do work. We’ve been doing this many years. We’re not saying you’re going to stop everything—it could happen. But these protocols and processes, I think many of you would recognize are effective. And keep the organization organized as they deal with them. So I think we’re ready for some Q&A at this point. Back to Meloy.
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Yeah. That sounds good, Steve. Yeah, let’s go to the Q&A.
Okay. Doctors, thanks very much. Fantastic presentation, I can tell you that because we have a lot of comments on here asking for a copy of the presentation, a copy of the recording. People are liking what they’re hearing. So for everyone on the line, after this you will get a link to the webinar being recorded and be able to hear all of this again.
And just to preface, the doctors have put years and years of scientific research into WAVR-21™. And it’s a lot to comprehend in 45 minutes, but they have a lot more to tell you about it. So just to start on that question, doctors. One of the big questions here is just, how does an organization or someone get involved in the WAVR-21™ process or start to understand it? Where do they go? How do they start? So either one of you can take that one.
Dr. Stephen White:
I’ll start here and let Reid come in. We have a website and not surprisingly, the website is wavr21.com, W-A-V-R-2-1.com. It has lots of information about the WAVR-21™, obviously. How to purchase the hard copy manual, which may be a good place for many people to start. Each of the items has two to four pages of descriptive information about the item, about how to use the WAVR-21™ about a scientific basis. And we wrote it to be very practically oriented. I’ve worked with organizations for years. I know how people think and that they want to get to the point, but they want substance. The manual is very handy that way. We each also have websites. We offer different kinds of training.
We refer to the WAVR-21™ gold training, which is a two-day training that Reid and I do. We can come to your organization and do it. We also are doing a public two-day WAVR-21™ training in Mountain View, November 30th and December 1st, this year. There’s still room, people are signing up. But there is room that’s November 30th, December 1st in Mountain View, California. And that information is on wavr21.com. We’re happy to answer questions about the WAVR-21™. I’ll tell you, my website is wtsglobal.com, that has more information as well. Reid, you want to make any other comments there?
Dr. Reid Meloy:
I just add Steve, that again the Threat Assessment app of the WAVR-21™, I think is really just an important step into the 21st century for the instrument. Primarily because it helps us move from paper to a secure digitized format. And it helps protect corporations in the kind of litigious atmosphere that we all live in. And it really enhances the transparency and rationality of the work that we’re doing. And Steve and I are happy to talk to folks about the live trainings that we’re doing. We also have an extended training, actually a three hour training through the Global Institute of Forensic Research, which is the gifrinc.com.
And that has continued education credits offered for a number of different professions. So again, that’s gifrinc.com for it extended three-hour training on the WAVR-21™. But as Steve mentioned, the gold standard for us is the two-hour training, where we actually come in and then work with your teams over the course of two days with case studies, videotapes, lots of group interaction, lots of didactics. We talk about research. And fundamentally, Steve and I find it just great fun to do that because it’s a much more personal connection with the folks that are doing this work in the field.
Dr. Stephen White:
Yeah. And you meet a lot of cool people there. Let me just say, this is a Resolver question that they can answer, but it’s very secure. And Resolver can answer your questions about.
Threat assessment with WAVR-21 and Resolver Q&A
Yeah. Actually that’ll tick me into the next question alongside with that was, “What is the actual name of the app and where do I get it?” And “Is it a separate app?” And “What’s the cost and how do we do that?” So I’ll take that one. So the app is called the Threat Assessment Tool for WAVR-21™. It is from Resolver. You go to www.resolver.com or reach out to one of our reps there. Or you’ll get an email after this, you can reach out to us at any point. It’s a tool that works directly with the WAVR-21™ program so they go hand-in-hand. And like Dr. Meloy mentioned earlier, it takes everything in WAVR-21™. It’s gone from paper and pen, and now it’s available in a software format that they showed you on there.
One thing to note from us is that everyone on the webinar today does get a discount to that app. You can discuss those details with some people at Resolver here at your convenience. Okay, doctors, if we’re going to get into some more meaty questions for you beyond this. We’ll start, at the end there Dr. White, you mentioned the last thing was when you have an incident looking for the early warning things.
And one attendee here asked specifically, “Can you cover some of the predictive indicators, those traits, conduct, statements or other actions that serve as early warning to prevent an incident?” Can you comment on that because it tailed right in there when you were presenting?
Dr. Stephen White:
Sure. I will comment and let Reid as well. We did mention the red flags, sort of an issue here, it’s like with the five indicators in the beginning. If somebody makes a threat, something’s wrong and you have to take it seriously. And threats per se are not very good predictors of who’s going to be violent. They are pretty good predictors in intimate partner situations, but you always have to take it seriously; and if people are afraid something’s wrong, and it may be blatant. Somebody could say to a coworker, “You’ve been a good guy and I’ve always liked you, and even though I hate this company. And I want you to stay home tomorrow, but keep your eye on CNN.” Whoa, now that sounds pretty scary.
Or a disgruntled husband could say, “Today’s the day I’m coming down there to get you and your new boyfriend. I don’t care about the cops.” So that’s on the surface, like very serious. You have to get into the detail though in that first hour and gather as much information as you can, recognizing there’s a need for speed versus the need for more information. And put it together as quickly as you can. Some things may be more subtle. Somebody could be very psychotic and very paranoid. You have to respond to that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be violent. And you have to look at the other factors as quickly as you can and get an initial take on the case.
Now, it may sound like… I mean, I can’t just say, yeah, these things for sure, it’s serious. Some are very obvious, some aren’t. You have to get into it very, very quick. If somebody’s been a good employee and they just get angry about their poor review, but there’s no history, and nobody’s afraid, and he’s got anchors and buffers. It’s like, “Well that doesn’t sound very serious,” but you’ve got to look. That’s one way to look at it. I’ll let Reid give his version to this.
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Yeah. A couple points that come to mind for me, Steve, on that is that the threatening communication issue is a very important one. Because in targeted violence, as Steve said, direct threats are typically not predictive, because most people that are planning and preparing for an act of targeted violence do not directly threaten their target beforehand because, obviously, it tactically doesn’t serve their purpose. But what we know from the research is that most individuals—and when I say most, I mean the vast majority of individuals that engage in targeted violence—do leak their intent to third parties.
And basically what that means is they tell a third party that they’re intending to attack a particular target. They don’t tell the target. And now, in the digital age we live, in the internet age, a lot of times that third party is communication through the internet. Through perhaps an email, through social media, where they will post a threatening message or they’ll post intent to carry out an act of violence. So oftentimes leakage—this indirect threat to a third party—is what gets us into the case and what opens the case. And then you begin to carefully investigate all the risk factors within the WAVR-21 to see if others are apparent. And oftentimes that includes meeting directly with the individual.
Now, the other sort of undercurrent that I heard in the question is that threat assessment is not about demographic profiling. We’re not trying to decide, well he’s a 23-year-old male and he had a felony conviction 10 years ago so we know he’s at high risk for violence. This is not what we’re doing. Threat assessment is about focusing on the behavior of the person now. What are they doing in the present that is concerning us, regardless of their demographics, regardless of gender, age, how they look, how they generally appear, whether they were abused or neglected as a child… Those are all the traditional kinds of questions that are asked oftentimes by psychologists and psychiatrists.
But in threat assessment, you’re focusing on behaviors of concern in the present, and you’re managing them actively as ways of preventing a potential targeted violence act down the road. But paradoxically, you’re not going to be able to predict whether that’s going to happen or not. But you manage behaviors of concern in the present, that we know from the research are related to acts of targeted violence that have been identified in the research.
Dr. Stephen White:
Let me just add, because Jerry wasn’t psychotic. But if somebody acts acutely psychotic, regardless of diagnosis—which is not what we’re about at that stage—if they’re acutely psychotic, having delusions, very paranoid… That’s an urgent matter that needs to be dealt with and it could involve aggression or violence of some kind. If the delusional belief includes violence, like, “I’m hearing aliens have told me to come and attack the people who are hacking my email.” That’s a serious matter right now. So that’s a very red flag. But if somebody’s breaking down psychotically in an organizational context, there needs to be a response right away, whether or not it specifically indicates the risk of violence.
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Okay. Let’s jump to some other questions. I know there are a bunch that folks want to ask something.
Yeah. We have lots here. So I’m going to throw one at you because I think this one might speak to the scientific aspect of WAVR-21™. This one is “Who records the information and how do you know that their own perception is not an influence in the outcome?”
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Yeah. You can never know whether the threat assessment team member’s own perception is influencing what they’re recording and it likely does. But in the gathering of the evidence, you’re documenting in as great detail as possible the source of the information: when it was gathered, who gathered it, what was the motivation of the person that provided you with that information? And by sifting, through the evidence very carefully, and rationally as a team discussing the evidence, some of the subjectivity can be removed.
And you’ll also notice in the 21 items that the items are behaviorally specific. So we try to keep our inferential leaps as tight as possible, and as brief as possible because when you get into greater inferential thinking, you’re likely to have more influence by subjective emotion and things like confirmation bias.
Okay, cool. Here’s a real quick one for you. Halfway through the presentation, you made a reference to SPJ. Someone wants to know what SPJ stands for.
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Yeah. SPJ stands for Structured Professional Judgment and it contrasts with Unstructured Professional Judgment (UPJ). SPJ instruments or instruments that outline and give you in detail scientifically based risk factors for a particular violent act that you maybe concerned about. So it structures your thinking and, in a sense, gives you an objective measure of the factors that you’re thinking about and then looking for evidence for each of those factors. And it keeps people away from what’s referred to as Unstructured Professional Judgment, where people just depend on their personal experience and their own personal authority. And the science tells us that does not work anywhere near as well as structuring professional judgment through an external organizing instrument, like the WAVR-21.
Okay. Dr. White, maybe we’ll have you take this one. “Do you think that “be safe rather than be sorry” could influence the legitimate outcome of the tool? Do you think that be safe rather than be sorry could influence the legitimate outcome of the tool?
Dr. Stephen White:
You mean people overestimating?
Yeah. I think it’s the reference to, “I have this threat, maybe I’m just going to be safe.” And maybe this goes up to the question before about the opinion of the intaker and things like that. Where does the science take over the personal side?
Dr. Stephen White:
Well, here’s a very simple basic fact: there’s nothing like experience to sharpen your judgement. The more you do this, the more competence you develop… I think the more, of course, you are able to fair it out and distinguish between these ranges of risk. One of our tendencies in this field is, “Do not overstate risk. Do not understate risk.” What is your opinion? Including if you don’t know, say you don’t know. But individuals with less experience may overstate in a “be safe” situation. But also, you could say, “Look it, we think that the risk is not that serious,” but people want security or we just can’t take any chance. So a decision may be based on the fact that since it could be catastrophic, even though we think the risk is low, we’re going to take extra security measures. Those are organizational management decisions. And as long as we know why we’re making them, I think that’s legitimate. But people with less experience, they could overestimate it, overstate it, or they could understate it out of denial. They can say, “Oh, Jerry’s not that bad of a guy, I’ve known him a long time.” Well, that’s not an objective evaluation of the situation.
So it can go either way. This is where being grounded with a tool, conferring with others and conferring with experts when you’re not sure, this is how you learn. And I think a really good way to learn is when you debrief your own cases with an expert afterwords, that gives great leverage for learning. Anyway, I hope that’s a useful answer.
Yeah. I think so. Reid, did you have anything you wanted to add to that piece before the next one? Let me read the next one, Reid, because maybe you can add to that. Because the next one is off the tail end of Dr. White’s there. “Does the program or tool generate a report or give you the probability level that will suggest there’s a solution?” So on the tail end of this, does WAVR-21™ and the tool… is it something that says, “Hey, there is a threat, here’s your solution?” Or can you explain how with WAVR-21™ and the tool, Dr. White was talking about at the end, you get a professional to analyze what was collected and make the human decision? What does that all tail off?
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Again, the WAVR-21™ is not a prescription or a fix. What it does is it helps you organize your data, it gets it out in front of you. It gets you to think about how these various 21 risk factors work together. As a threat assessment team then you would weigh the factors and determine for that particular individual, which ones are more important. And then you would formulate a management plan for the case. But oftentimes assessment and management go hand-in-hand. In other words, as you manage the case, you get more assessment data. And as you assess the case, you may be doing things to more effectively manage it.
But it’s not a magic pill—the team has to work together. You have to develop interdisciplinary collaboration among the team members. You want folks on your team, in your corporate setting, that are enthusiastic about this process, that are interested in it, that are earnest about doing it well. And the WAVR-21™ becomes an organizing instrument for the team work.
Okay. Thank you. We’re just rolling past 3:00 here. There’s still quite a few questions and I know people will want to get going. I think a lot of people are very interested in your skills and your experience here. So the one question is, “Do you do just consulting instead of training?” Which I think the answer is yes. But I think for the benefit of the audience, could you maybe just spend 30 seconds on, if they’re interested in contacting you to learn about how to consult and come into their companies, how would that work?
Dr. Stephen White:
Yeah. Well, I’ll go ahead. In my case, wtsglobal.com is my website, swhite AT wtsglobal. We do case consulting, we do training. We can answer some of these questions that are left over. But sure, I may spend half an hour on the phone with somebody, I may spend a long time on a case. But sure, we consult as well as train. And a lot of these questions, which are great questions, are addressed in the manual by the way. Go ahead, Reid.
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Yeah. Steve and I work very closely together and we’ll refer cases to each other. And my website is drreidmeloy.com. And then through that website, you can learn more about me if you want to. And then there’s also an email there through which I can be contacted. But Steve and I both do consulting on a regular basis for a whole variety of entities from individuals up to and including government agencies and also national security issues.
Dr. Stephen White:
And there’s a lot of references on Reid’s website in particular, articles, and the International Handbook of Threat Assessment, which he edited with Jens Hoffmann and I have a chapter in it. My website’s got additional resources. There’s a lot of good information out there as well.
Dr. Reid Meloy:
And I think on that last slide, we do have the contact information if I’m remembering it correctly.
Okay. Jen, you want to pull back one slide there? Well, there’s full-screen view of Dr. Meloy. Look at that, smile. Yeah big smile. There we go. Before we wrap up, doctors, anything from each of you just sort of final remarks that may benefit the viewers. I mean, the there’s so many questions here about different organizations I can join. And “Where do I go find information?” It looks like people are really looking for some direction on how to learn and where to start on some of this.
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Yeah. If I could pitch something, the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals is a very important organization that Steve and I are both very much a part of. It’s www.atapworldwide.org, A-T-A-Pworldwide.org. And then there’s also a Canadian Association of Threat Assessment Professionals which the acronym being, CATAP. There’s also one in Asia and there’s one in Europe too. And we both love that organization, because it’s an opportunity for people to network that are very interested in threat assessment. And there are annual conventions for each of those four organizations in different parts of the world. And again, they focus on targeted violence, which is what we’re all about with the WAVR-21™.
Dr. Stephen White:
Reid, let me mention, we have a newsletter that comes out roughly quarterly, my company does, WTS. And again, if you go to my web website, you can sign up for the newsletter. It includes information about trainings that Reid does as well as what I do and what we do together. But we have an informative newsletter, we always include a little feature. And then announcements about upcoming training and you can sign up for it.
Excellent. Thank you to both of you, what a fabulous session. For those still on the call, there’s still quite a few questions out there, but we can get those answered for you offline in various shapes of forms. So thank you to all of our viewers today, especially there’s a large group that have stuck around.
So thanks for joining us today for Threat Assessments 101, that concludes today’s session. Thank you to both Dr. Meloy, Dr. White. On behalf of myself, and the doctors and the Resolver team, thank you once again everyone for your time. And please enjoy the rest of your day.
Dr. Reid Meloy:
Thanks so much Brian.
Dr. Stephen White:
Dr. Reid Meloy: