Factors in Threat Assessment

Specific, plausible details are a critical factor in evaluating a threat. Details can include:

  • Identity of the victim or victims
  • Reason for making the threat
  • The means, weapon, and method by which it is to be carried out
  • Date, time, and place where the threatened act will occur
  • Concrete information about plans or preparations that have already been made

Specific details can indicate that substantial thought, planning, and preparatory steps have already been taken, suggesting a higher risk that the person making the threat will follow through on his threat. A lack of detail suggests the opposite.

Details that are specific but not logical or plausible may indicate a less serious threat.

The emotional content of a threat can be an important clue to the person’s mental state. Emotions are conveyed by melodramatic words and unusual punctuation, or in excited, incoherent passages that may refer to God or other religious beings or deliver an ultimatum. These can sound frightening, but no correlation has been established between the emotional intensity in a threat and the risk it will be carried out.

Precipitating stressors are incidents, circumstances, reactions, or situations which can trigger a threat.

The impact of a precipitating event will depend on “pre-disposing factors”: underlying personality traits, characteristics, and temperament. Therefore information about a precipitating stressor must be considered together with broader information about these underlying factors, such as an individual’s vulnerability to loss and depression.