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Study identifies key information to help prevent violent public attacks

(WKOW) Last September’s shooting at a Middleton workplace that injured four people was used in a research study done by the Department of Homeland Security’s Threat Assessment Center this year.

The study broke down 27 mass public attacks that happened in 2018 in order to identify key information that could give people the knowledge to stop certain types of attacks.

“Through this report, NTAC aims to assist law enforcement, schools, public agencies, private organizations, and others in understanding the motives, behavioral indicators, and situation factors of those who carry out mass attacks,” wrote director James Murray.

According to the study, most of the suspects used firearms in their attack, and nearly all made threatening or concerning communications before the incident.

More than three-quarters of those attackers concerned people around them at some point.

The Middleton shooter, who was killed by police during his attack, had a run-in with South Dakota police in 2004. Immediately after the interaction, he was put on a 24 hour mental health hold and his weapons were confiscated. At the time, police said he was showing signs of paranoia and delusions.

Two thirds of the attackers researched in the study had displayed similar symptoms prior to the violent incidents, but the researchers made clear that mental illness alone is not a risk factor for violence.

While the study indicates there’s “no single profile that can be used to predict who will engage in targeted violence,” there are ways to focus on those concerning behaviors in order to intervene much earlier with those people who may pose a risk.

For mental health and wellness, researchers suggest a “multidisciplinary” approach that promotes emotional and mental wellness. They indicate that an employee assistance program can be helpful in the workplace.

Sharing a concern about someone’s behavior is not frowned upon, the researchers stressed. Over-reporting should be avoided, but they recommend people should at least be aware of warning signs that can come before an act of violence. There are smart phone apps that community members can download which can help report instances.

Finally, the study’s authors used the data from the 2018 attacks to emphasize the importance of “doing something” in the case of any suspicious activity or even gut feelings. If there is an individual that is eliciting concern, that should be reported or follow up on, so that they “do not fall through the cracks.”

By using this type of threat assessment, which includes identifying the risks and then actually doing something about it, potential violence can be avoided.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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