How to Recognize Threats

There are many behaviors and circumstances that may indicate an increasing risk for violence, significant disruption to others, or that a person is in need of assistance. The significance of any one behavior or circumstance is often difficult to determine. Therefore, the threat assessment process is designed to review the situation in context of all of the facts that can be known.

Violence, especially that targeted toward a specific victim, most commonly stems from the interaction of 4 factors:

S The subject who may take violent action

T The vulnerabilities of the target or victim

E An environment that facilitates, permits, or does not discourage violence

P Any precipitating events that may trigger reactions

Following are examples of behaviors and circumstances, from each of the primary factors, that may serve as indicators of developing concerns. These examples are meant to help you identify potential concerns during your daily interactions with others. These examples are NOT all-inclusive and this information is not intended to be used as a checklist.

If you are aware of a situation that has indicators of concern like the ones listed below, please share what you know with the Tufts Threat Assessment Team by contacting Tufts Police.

Some behaviors exhibited by subjects who may escalate to disruptive or violent actions:

  • Attempts to harm or kill self
  • Unexplained increases in absenteeism
  • Decreased performance in work or academics
  • Resistance to change or reasonable limits
  • Over-reaction to changes in policies/procedures
  • Extreme or sudden changes in behaviors
  • Numerous conflicts with others
  • Difficulty learning from past behaviors or experiences
  • Displays paranoia or distrust
  • Alienates others or isolates self from others
  • Makes statements indicating approval of use of violence to resolve a problem
  • Identifies with or idolizes persons who have engaged in violence toward others

The vulnerabilities of the target

  • Unclear or inconsistent expectations
  • Consistency of travel/ movement/ patterns
  • Denial in the face of a clear threat posed
  • Passive orientation to safety
  • Ease of access

An environment that facilitates, permits, or does not discourage violence

  • Chronic unresolved conflict
  • High perceived levels of stress
  • Toleration of aggressive or hostile interactions
  • Perceived distrust/ devaluing
  • Existence of pecking order/ cliques

Any precipitating events that may trigger reactions

  • Losses (such as):
  • Job/ Income
  • Status
  • Significant other/ relationship
  • Perceived rejection or injustice
  • Ostracized by others
  • Health problems (e.g., head injuries)
 Note that such precipitating events may be real, perceived, or anticipated by the subject of concern.

How to Recognize Violent or Threatening Behavior

Violent behavior includes, but is not limited to:

  • Any physical assault, with or without weapons
  • Behavior that a reasonable person would interpret as being potentially violent, such as throwing things, pounding on a desk or door, or destroying property
  • Specific threats to inflict harm, such as a threat to shoot a named individual
  • Use of any object to intimidate and/or attack another person

Threatening behavior includes, but is not limited to:

  • Physical actions short of actual physical contact and/or injury, such as moving closer aggressively, waving arms or fists, yelling in an aggressive or threatening manner
  • General oral or written threats (in any medium, including email and social media) to people or property, such as, “You better watch your back” or “I’ll get you” or “I’ll ruin your car”
  • Threats made in a “joking” manner
  • Stalking behavior
  • Implicit threats, such as, “You’ll be sorry” or “This isn’t over yet”

How do I know if the behavior warrants a TTAM intervention or if other campus resources are more appropriate to handle it?

You do not have to make this determination; TTAM will do it for you. The most critical step is that you report your concern to Tufts Police, by using EthicsPoint (anonymous reporting available); or by email to the TTAM Team.  If another campus resource is more appropriate for the situation, the TTAM will refer the community member and handle the transfer of information. If you believe a threat is imminent, always contact University Police immediately.

Typically, behaviors that pose a potential threat to safety or that cause a significant community disruption qualify as TTAM referrals.

Even if you are questioning or unsure, it’s always better to talk to someone about a person or situation of concern.

Recognizing and reporting early signs of a potentially dangerous situation is crucial to violence prevention. Your participation is the first step to keeping our campuses safe. Therefore, you should always get in touch with Tufts Police, TTAM by email, or complete a report through EthicsPoint .

If you are comfortable doing so, you can also tell the individual who is exhibiting threatening behavior that you are concerned and ask if s/he needs help. If they do, you can refer them to the below list of services for students and employees:

For students

For employees (faculty and staff)

NOTE: Some content used by permission: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.