Blog: How to Deal with Threatening Behavior

This is contributor post by Mike Colver, Director of Public Safety & Emergency Management, Coastline College.

Coastline College seeks to promote a safe environment where students and employees may participate in the educational process without compromising their health, safety, or welfare. In order to ensure the safety and security of Coastline College, we strictly prohibit violence or threatening behavior. Beforehand, it is important to understand what defines threatening behavior.

Threatening behavior presents itself in various forms.  Threatening behavior is different from disruptive behavior. Rather than simply distracting or interfering with activity, threatening behavior is an expressed or implied threat of harm directed at others or the person is so angry/irrational that it puts you in fear.  Keep in mind: Disruptive behavior can also be a precursor to threatening behavior.  Merriam-Webster (2019) defines threatening as “expressing or suggesting a threat of harm, danger, etc.”

 Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines threatening as “expressing or suggesting a threat of harm, danger, etc.”

This behavior can occur at work, at school, at home, over the phone, or in writings (letters, email, or social media).  It can originate from a peer, a stranger, colleague at work, in a school environment, a random encounter with a criminal on the street, or an encounter with someone with a psychiatric disorder. Recognize the red flags early in interactions and avoid said situations, if possible.

Early Detection

ASIS International, the world’s largest membership organization for security management professionals, state in their Protection of Assets that “the most effective means of preventing workplace violence is early detection of this behavioral, emotional, and psychological dynamic” (POA Security Management, 2012, p. 363).  Early detection begins with reporting.  The axiom See Something, Say Something rings true.  Sadly, a survey by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln of 1,075 students at a Midwestern university found a report rate of threatening or concerning behaviors on campus at a mere 12.3% (Hodges, Low, Vinas-Racionereo, Hollister, & Scalora, 2016, p. 129).  A number of acts of school and workplace violence have been prevented by reporting of suspicious or concerning behavior.

If a person is making threats in your presence, attempt to disengage with that person and remove yourself from the environment.  Call security or law enforcement. 

What to do when encountering threatening behavior:

  • Assess the nature of the threat.  Is the threat to you personally, another person, or an institution?  Is the threat expressed or implied?
  • Take threats seriously; do not discount them.
  • Attempt to deescalate the situation.  Often people are simply frustrated by the situation.
    • Remain calm.
    • Speak slowly and confidently.
    • Listen closely and patiently; acknowledge their feelings.
    • Position yourself so your exit is not blocked.
  • Ask for help. Ask or signal for a co-worker or friend to call for Campus Public Safety or law enforcement.  It is better to call for their support even if they are not needed in the end.  Sometimes the simple presence of a uniformed officer will deescalate the situation without the need for intervention.
  • Call for help. If you can safely use the phone, call public safety or 911.  You can also dial 911 and leave the phone off of the hook; law enforcement will be able to listen to the conversation while dispatching patrol officers to your location.
  • Write up the incident immediately. Following the encounter, write down some exact words or phrases used by the person who behaved in a threatening manner.  Exact words and context can assist security or law enforcement in their report and refresh your memory later if criminal charges are filed.

After a threatening encounter, report it to your supervisor or friend in a quiet setting and re-evaluate what was said. Even an angry, “disruptive” person who does not make a threat can pose a threat later.  If in doubt, report it.  Generally speaking, violent behavior starts with disgruntlement and escalates in a continuum through intimidation, spoken and written threats leading to acts of violence (Protection of Assets, 2012, Security Management, p. 363).  Coastline College uses Maxient software to report and manage behavioral concerns for Academic Dishonesty, Disruptive Behavior, Concerning Behavior, and Sexual Misconduct.

Need to file an incident report?  View the MAXIENT Incident Report

What is a Maxient Incident Report?

Maxient is a form to submit allegations related to any of the following:

Coastline also has a Behavioral Assessment Team (BAT) that meets monthly (more frequently as needed) to review incidents, conduct threat assessments, and develop strategies to address disruptive behaviors, mitigate threats, and provide relevant resources to assist our community.  Coastline employees can access Maxient using the icon on their computer’s Desktop.

Both students and employees can also find the web link on the Coastline Behavioral Assessment Team’s webpage: http://www.coastline.edu/behavioral-asssessment-team

Steps to take when encountering violent behavior:

When violence appears imminent, each individual must make their own assessment of the situation, the environment in which it occurs, and their own physical and emotional abilities.

  • Do precisely as you are told, and no more.
  • Avoid eye contact with the suspect.
  • Speak only when spoken to.
  • Tell the suspect exactly what you are doing.
  • Make no sudden movements.
  • Wait to activate alarms unless it is safe to do so.
  • Try to remain calm and control your emotions.

If all else fails, consider the Run, Hide, Fight philosophy. While you may not want to engage the subject, you may have no choice.  Remember, you do not need to take control of the person, you only need to distract them long enough to leave the situation.

Moreover, we don’t want to alarm you, but rather inform you, as Coastline College has an extremely low crime rate.  According to the most recent Coastline Community College 2018 Annual Security Report covering the three-year period from 2015-2017, there were no reported cases of aggravated assault.

Remember, no one should be subjected to threatening behavior.  If you are, remain calm, disengage if possible, ask for assistance, and report the threat immediately.

About the author

Mike Colver is Director of Public Safety & Emergency Management at Coastline College.  Previously, Mike was Interim Chief of Public Safety for Rancho Santiago Community College District and is a retired Lieutenant with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department where he served almost 31 years.  Mike is a member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP) and a Board Certified Protection Professional (CPP) with ASIS International, the world’s largest membership organization for security management professionals.

References

Coastline Community College 2018 Annual Security Report (2018). Retrieved from http://documents.coastline.edu/About%20CCC/Public%20Safety/2018%20Annual%20Security%20Report.pdf

Hodges, H. J., Low, E. C., Vinas-Racionereo, M. R., Hollister, B. A., & Scalora, M.J. (2016).  Examining the Reasons for Student Responses to Threatening Behaviors on a College Campus. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 3(3-4), 129.

Merriam-Webster. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/threatening

Protection of Assets (POA). (2012), Security Management (p. 363). Alexandria, Virginia: ASIS International.