Research

The Targeted Violence Research Team collaborates with a range of mental health and law enforcement professionals to 1) research relevant risk factors for targeted violence and 2) devise prevention strategies that can be applied in real-world settings. Our team investigates targeted violence across various types and settings. Types of violence include sexual assault, stalking, threatening behaviors, and extremist activity. The settings in which we study these behaviors involve government institutions, the workplace, college campuses, and the community at large.

ONGOING RESEARCH

Counterterrorism, Threat Assessment, and Insider Threat
Numerous state and federal agencies are charged with responding to problematic approach behaviors, such as threats, or potentially lethal contacts aimed at government targets, political figures, and institutions. Our research team collaborates with many agencies to research problematic contacts and security incidents in order to identify characteristics that may predict an escalation in threatening behaviors.

Threat assessment refers to the determination of risk posed by specific subjects toward specific targets.  The subjects that pose a threat may be individuals or groups, and their targets may be public figures or institutions. Threat assessment is one tool as part of counterterrorism activity that can be utilized across different levels of the public and private sectors. Counterterrorism refers to measures taken to prevent, deter, and respond to a terrorist act, or the documented threat of such an act. The team's research has focused upon various types of targeted violence directed toward governmental institutions and the infrastructure from individuals as well as terror and extremist groups. The team’s research attempts to improve upon prior research that conducted in this field by systematically appraising risk factors and including variables that are typically available to law enforcement. Even prior to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, our research team was exploring the fact that public officials and institutions are at greater risk for unwanted attention from terrorist groups (foreign and domestic) as well as disgruntled citizens.

Threats to Government Officials and Institutions
The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) is the Federal Law Enforcement Agency responsible for protecting the Members of Congress and its employees, visitors, and facilities from crime, disruption, or terrorism. In collaboration with the USCP, our research team has analyzed security incidents involving state and federal government targets in order to identify characteristics that may predict problematic approach behavior (e.g., threatening or disruptive face-to-face contact) or potentially lethal contact. Our team has also examined the predictive role of symptoms suggestive of mental illness upon problematic approach behavior toward political officials and institutions.  Our research team also focuses on the predictive factors related to electronic communications pertinent to problematic approach behavior.

Counterterrorism and Insider Threat Research
In collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD) and the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, Dr. Scalora co-manages a project aimed at developing guidelines for the detection of “insider threats.” An insider is defined as someone within an organization or with access to critical aspects of the organization. This can be an employee, contractor, consultant, or any person who has a relationship with or is in a position of trust within the organization. Threats that are particularly concerning include sabotage, espionage, theft, politically motivated violence, terrorist acts, or general disruption to organizational infrastructure or security. Members of Dr. Scalora’s lab often assist with research on insider threats through the UNL Policy Center during one of their practica. Related counterterrorism research involving the DoD involves a multimodal investigation with a diverse sample of source handlers to explore decision-making in the process of source assessment. The professionals who were surveyed described balancing risk with potential gains when working with human sources. They make decisions in source operations by considering the interaction of source attributes, operational requirements, safety/security issues and situational factors. Continued analysis regarding source assessment decision-making continues.
Campus and Workplace Violence

Another area for targeted violence is much more pervasive in its impact, namely workplace violence.  Informing the consideration of potential risk factors, employers face several sources of legal liability to prevent workplace regardless of whether the source of threat is external or internal to the worksite. Current research focuses upon unreported and reported incidents across government agencies, educational institutions as well as health care settings. Such findings have substantial implications for training, intervention, and prevention activity across these settings.

Department of Defense – Workplace Violence
In research related to the DoD Insider Threat project listed above, this research focuses on the factors that improve or impair the reporting of potential workplace violence behaviors within the military.

Campus Threat Assessment and Increasing On-Campus Reporting of Threatening Behaviors 
In partnership with the University of Nebraska Police Department and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, Dr. Scalora and his colleagues are engaged in extensive research, training, and consultation related to campus threat assessment and management. Threat mitigation and safety practices have come under increased scrutiny in the wake of high profile shootings and incidents on post-secondary campuses across the nation. Campus law enforcement and other educational personnel (e.g., student affairs, human resources, mental health, etc.) lead campus efforts to proactively address threats across a range of situations. These professionals routinely encounter threatening, suspicious, and hoax activities that require planned, thoughtful and decisive action.
 Reporting of threatening behaviors on college campuses continues to be problematic and much lower than reporting rates in the community at large. One strategy for improving campus safety is to increase the reporting of concerning behavior by college students. Increased reporting enables professional attempts to intervene upon noticeable threatening behaviors signifying foreseeable violence. Through anonymous electronic surveys, we collect information regarding student experiences with threatening behaviors, reasons for reporting decisions, and response behaviors.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department
In partnership with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, the Targeted Violence Research Team receives ongoing information regarding threatening campus activities, such as verbal threats, physical aggression, sexual assault, and stalking behaviors.
Sexual Violence

Sexual assault is perhaps the vilest form of targeted violence. Through collaboration with local law enforcement, correctional services, and treatment centers, the Targeted Violence Research Team investigates the various factors related to the prediction, management, and treatment of sexual violence. Another area of focus among the research team involves the substantial policy concerns regarding the management of sexual offenders and the prevention of sexual violence, such as community notification and sexual predator laws.

Stalking/Harassment

Stalking and harassment behaviors plague a range of victims and institutions across the public and private sectors. Our team researches the features of these behaviors, pre-incident warnings, and prevention strategies for stalking and harassment against college students, public figures, and government and military employees. Our recent research has focused upon these activities occurring electronically through Twitter, texting, emailing and social network sites. Continued research is also addressing the nature and reporting of stalking and harassing behavior within higher educational settings.

EMERGING PROJECTS

Violence and Healthcare Facilities

Violent activity within health care facilities is a growing concern. Through recent collaboration with the VA Health Care System, the  lab will analyze national data on disruptive behaviors within VA facilities.

Suicide and Workplace Violence 

In a follow-up to the ongoing DoD studies, Dr. Scalora and his colleagues with the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center will investigate potential indicators of suicide and violence towards others in a sample of active duty military personnel and civilian contractors.

Validity of Workplace Risk Assessment Instruments

While substantial research on the validation of violence risk assessment instruments has been performed within various community, psychiatric, and correctional settings, relatively little validation research has occurred violence within workplace settings. This projects seeks to validate the application of three established risk assessment instruments to workplace violence samples.