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.
Threat Assessment, Extremism, 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
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.
Extremism and Insider Threat Research
In collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD) and the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, Dr. Scalora has managed projects 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.
Threats to Educational Settings
Threat Assessment and Increasing Community and Educational 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 community and educational threat assessment and management. Threat mitigation and safety practices have come under increased scrutiny in the wake of high profile shootings and incidents across the nation. Law enforcement and educational personnel (e.g., educators, mental health, etc.) lead 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 within the community and campus settings continues to be problematic. One strategy for improving safety is to increase the reporting of concerning behavior. 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 assesses a range of issues regarding threatening campus activities, such as verbal threats, physical aggression, sexual assault, and stalking behaviors. The research team's activity is also evaluating both the nature and the impact of the threat assessment and management activity.
Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes
Bias incidents and hate crimes refer to incidents that are motivated “in whole or in part by an offender’s bias(es) against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity” (FBI, 2018). Bias incidents may include behaviors such as harassment, bullying, stalking, verbal, physical or sexual violence. The Targeted Violence Research Team is interested in studying forms of bias crimes that occur both on campus and within the community by using self-report surveys and available law enforcement data. Specifically, the team is examining the nature of perpetration behavior, predictors that may assist in reducing these offenses, and responses to these incidents by both victims and bystanders. Recent research within this realm has centered on bias incidents targeted towards LGBTQ+ students and homophobia.
Violence in K-12 Schools
Threat assessment research within K-12 schools has grown substantially in recent years in efforts to identify and prevent threatening behavior within these settings. Schools are subjected to a number of violent incidents involving students, faculty and staff, parents, intimate partners, and outside community members. Threats within K-12 schools may be targeted at the institution or directed towards a specific individual, and could include threats of mass violence (i.e., school shootings), or smaller scale threats (i.e., stalking, physical aggression) in which a specific target has been identified. In partnership with Lincoln Public Schools and the Nebraska Department of Education, the Targeted Violence Research Team is conducting projects examining threatening and concerning behaviors that take place within K-12 Lincoln public schools and statewide in rural areas. The research team is actively collecting data regarding the nature of the incidents, targets of the behaviors, and interventions used to mitigate the concerning activity.
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.
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.
Sexual Violence Recidivism
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. Currently, the team is concerned with risk factors for sexual recidivism among high-risk sex offenders housed in a forensic inpatient treatment setting.
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.