People who commit violence at work or school often exhibit warning signs in advance. But co-workers, classmates and teachers frequently don’t report threatening behavior, even when a reporting mechanism is in place.
To help reduce workplace violence and terrorism, UNL psychology professor Mario Scalora is researching the psychological barriers to reporting with a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Knowing what can facilitate people reporting, we can do more preventive actions up front, rather than having to react to ugly situations,” he said. A national expert in threat assessment, Scalora leads one of the country’s most active research programs on the subject. He works closely with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and is the consulting psychologist to the U.S. Capitol Police.
“Knowing what can facilitate people reporting, we can do more preventive actions up front, rather than having to react to ugly situations.”
— Mario Scalora
Following the 2009 murder of 13 people by an employee at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, the DoD decided to expand its use of Threat Management Units across all branches of the military. These teams of specially trained psychologists and law enforcement agents assess and manage employees who exhibit potentially threatening behavior.
The teams rely heavily on co-workers reporting their concerns, but lack of reporting is the biggest obstacle to preventing violence, Scalora said.
To develop strategies that encourage reporting, he and colleagues are conducting surveys, focus groups and individual interviews to determine employees’ current understanding of threat assessment, what they see as barriers to reporting and what they think would encourage reporting. Scalora’s team will use the information to make recommendations to the DoD.
Several factors contribute to lack of reporting, Scalora said, including insufficient knowledge to assess a threat, denial of its seriousness and nervousness about getting involved, due either to reluctance to get someone in trouble or fear that others will know they came forward.
“We appreciate the opportunity to assist the DoD in making a safer environment for men and women in uniform and civilians who serve our nation,” he said. This research also will help prevent violence in workplaces, schools and other targets of violence.