Threat Assessment Prevention Program: A Temporary Hope?

by Annisha Susilo, University of Massachusetts Lowell

One of the common response I received from friends and family when I told them I’m going to study in America was “Be careful, you know the gun problem there”. I understand their concern and it does have a strong statistical basis. The statistics published by on mass shootings (four or more shooting victims in a single incident, not including the shooter) found thatthere have been at least 72 public mass shootings across 31 states in the past 33 years (Follman, Aronsen, & Pan, 2015). The number is currently believed to be on the rise, with mass shootings occur every 64 days on average since 2011 (Cohen, Azrael & Miller, 2014). Out of a total of 143 guns owned by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. The gun types range from semi-automatic handguns to assault weapons. Approximately half of the cases of mass shootings occur in a school or workplace, and the rest of the cases took place in public spaces such as shopping malls, restaurants, religious and government building. The killers were mostly white males, with an average age of 35 years old. The majority of them were mentally troubled or displayed signs of mental health problems prior to committing the crime (Follman, Aronsen& Pan, 2015).

So what do we do to stop it?

Gun control is a debatable issue in US. Currently, there is a lack of political will (or ability) to tighten regulations on the sale and access to guns (Follman, 2015). This doesn’t mean that the government is not doing anything at all. Ever since the Columbine massacre in 1999, there is a shift of focus in the law enforcement from prosecution to prevention method. Threat assessment is one of the prevention program run locally across America in response to the mass shooting problems (Follman, 2015). Itconsists of a team of cops, psychologist, counselors and security expert, who work together to identify, evaluate and intervene people who has the potential to turn violent or become a mass shooter (Follman, 2015). The aim of this secondary method of prevention is simple, to stop someone from becoming a mass shooter.

How do they do it?

Threat assessment involves three stages; identifying, evaluating and intervening process. It starts when the team receivesa tip or report from people in the community about a potential high risk subject who has been behaving erratically or have communicated their intention to harm others. The team then works to identify if the subject is a real threat by looking at their social background and risk factors such as access to weapon, mental health status, and intention to kill. Information is then evaluated and used to create interventions such as counselling programs or if threat is imminent, involuntary hospitalization (Follman, 2015).

How will does it work?

“In December 2013, then-attorney General Eric Holder announced that Simons’ FBI unit (a threat assessment team) had helped prevent almost 150 attacks in one year” (Follman, 2015, para.17).  That is a lot of potential crime prevented, but why is the rate of mass shooting still increasing every year? The experts argue that it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of threat assessment because there is no real way of knowing “whether someone would have otherwise gone to attack” (Follman, 2015, para.18). Furthermore, like any other issue in the community, it requires multiple solutions that specifically target the risks. Threat assessment is one of them, but it can’t be the only one, especially when a significant risk factor such as access to guns has not been properly addressed.More work needs to be done incorporating Bronfenbrenner’s level of analysis and need assessment model in prevention programs if we want to win“the race to stop the next mass shooter” (Follman, 2015, title). (630 words)

#Commpsych #prevention #massshooting #threatassessment

Annisha Susilo is a graduate student in Community Social Psychology Department at University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Cohen, A. P., Azrael, D., & Miller, M. (2014).Rate of Mass Shootings Has Tripled Since 2011, Harvard Research Shows. Retrieved


Follman, M., Aronsen, G., & Pan, D. (2015).A Guide to Mass Shootings in America. Retrieved from


Follman, M. (2015).Inside The Race to Stop The Next Mass Shooter. Retrieved form


Image source Stanford Mass Shootings in America, courtesy of the Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries. (2015). Retrieved from