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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ten Tips for Threat Assessment & Avoidance of Violence

This week I attended a mandatory training session on threat assessment at Waukesha County Technical College, where I teach creative writing. I did not want to go. The subject seemed so negative. I thought, "Has the world really come to this?"

It has.

To my surprise, the training was wonderful. It was led by Pewaukee police officer and WCTC instructor Christopher Jaekl, who must have gone home exhausted after his energetic presentation.

I purposely did not take notes because I wanted to force myself to lodge his ideas in my head. I think the officer's tips are useful for all of us. Each one of us could encounter someone who poses a threat at any time, anywhere. Here are Officer Jaekl's tips that I carried home in my head:

1. A person doesn't have to make a threat to be a threat.

2. Pay attention to when the hair rises on the back of your neck. This is nature's way of keeping us alive. If you feel something is an emergency, it is an emergency. Call 911.

3. There are many signs leading up to violence, where you can diffuse the situation. Watch for boxer stance, agitation, arms waving around, hands flicking here and there, eye contact avoidance or staring right through you, and (worst of all) dead silence like the eye of the storm.

4. Stay calm so your brain can keep working. Take DEEP breaths. Talk calmly.

5. Be respectful. Listen carefully & acknowledge any valid points the person may make. Ask the person to sit down. Say "I can help you." Say "I can't think when you're this close to me. Can you kindly back up a bit?" Give the person a choice.

6. Make yourself a human being, not a target. Use eye contact. Stand up straight.

7. There is strength in numbers. Stay with a group.

8. Create distraction. If a threat becomes active, knock something over or throw something to buy time and break the attacker-target gaze.

9. If you know an armed person is running around your building, lock your door if you can, barricade yourself inside your room or a safe nearby room, turn out the lights, and be quiet.

10. If you are personally threatened with a weapon, don't try to fight physically. Again, make yourself human - not a target - by talking. It's okay to get down on your knees, use eye contact, and tell about your family members who love and need you.

My dad always said "When you're number's up, it's up." I too am fatalistic. Even so, I like learning these tips. May we never need any of them.

Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, and Dessert First, all available from


  1. Great tips Gail. Thanks for sharing!

  2. "Be respectful... listen... don't try to fight physically"
    They're giving bad advice.

    People who have analyzed mass murders (active shooter incidents like Columbine, Ohio State U., Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois U., U of Pittsburgh, California State U., Delaware State U., San Diego State U., U of Iowa, U of Alabama - Huntsville, U of Central Arkansas, etc. ... all of which were "gun-free" zones) say that the best way to stop the criminal is quick, early, violent opposition.

    If you wouldn't use a tactic to stop a dog attacking you, don't expect it to work on a person attacking you with a gun.

    Throwing something is a good start.
    Unfortunately, on the WCTC campus there's not much you could effectively throw, esp. if the criminal is using a gun.

    Oh, wait - he couldn't have a gun because of the magical signs on the doors! Nobody but police can have a gun inside a campus building.
    I forgot this is supposed to be creative writing; a fictional story. Sorry.

    [My dad always said "When you're number's up, it's up."]

    1. Thanks for your comments, "Ms." Interesting.

    2. Ms, forgot to mention - this isn't creative writing. It's simple reporting. Like I said, I didn't take notes but reported on Officer Jaekl's talk from memory. He did make a strong point about not appearing victim-like. I could have emphasized that more in my blog post.

  3. "the only hope for stopping the shooter and saving lives in most active shooter events, will come from someone who is at the scene when the shooting starts... the only hope for saving lives may fall to citizens who are on-scene when the attack begins."

    Richard Fairburn, Rapid Deployment: Version 2.0, POLICE MARKSMAN, Sept./Oct. 2007, at 21,
    available at

    "[t]he sooner someone — anyone — effectively intervenes through an act of courage, the fewer funerals will result"

    Dan Marcou, 5 Phases of the Active Shooter Incident, POLICE MARKSMAN, Sept./Oct. 2007, at 31,
    available at

    "by far the best response to an active shooter is for someone to start shooting back"

    David Kopel, Pretend Gun-Free School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction, Connecticut Law Review, December 2009, Vol. 42, No. 2
    available at

    1. Ms, your comments remind me about a talk I had with a clerk in Tucson shortly after the Gabrielle Giffords shootings. The clerk wore a gun on her hip. She said if she had been there when the shooting began, the shooter "would have had a canoe for a head." It took me a while to picture that, but I got her drift. Sounds like you would like to be armed at WCTC. Maybe you should petition for that right...?

  4. Recently, in Minnesota, a 19 year old man was among several people being held hostage in a motel. At some point he managed to run from the room. The police were on the scene and, intervening quickly, shot him dead. I disagree with the argument about keeping the citizenry armed simply because proponents make so little allowance for human perceptual errors.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sheri. I once talked with a man who had been mugged in Milwaukee. He was injured rather seriously. He said that if he had had a gun, both he and the mugger probably would have wound up dead. He was completely against bearing arms. I myself see both sides of the argument. It's really hard to figure out because no one can factor in all the variables!