Thursday, November 13, 2014

“Predicting” Violent Behavior

We currently live in a society that is “an environment conducive to criminality:”  virtually all aspects of the most popular forms of entertainment involve violence and anti-social behavior (movies, television, video games, etc.); the news media thrives on violence and anti-social behavior (count the number of such stories versus “good” or “nice” news); society by and large has come to accept violence and anti-social behavior (we abide such behaviors in our neighborhoods and schools, our criminal justice system is virtually an ineffective revolving door, etc.); and we expend resources to protect ourselves usually only after a tragic event has occurred.  In other words, we may not like it, but we actually do – or can do – little about it.
We try to find reasons for violent behavior, and try to find ways to “predict” it in hopes of preventing it.  But is such a lofty goal even possible?   Or does the concept of preventing problems exist only in theory, not reality or practicality?  Consider:
“Behavior modification” is a great term and concept – provided that we have some idea as to whose behavior we are attempting to modify.  When the threat is external to an organization, how can we begin to know which of the next 732 persons to enter a facility is the one whose behavior needs modifying?  How can we begin to know if the “behavior modification” techniques that might work on 731 of those persons will work on the 1 who will actually be the next shooter?  If none of those 732 go on a shooting rampage today, does that mean that our “behavior modification” techniques were successful – or that none of them simply chose today as the day to shoot?   Etc. etc. etc.
We see examples of our efforts to find a new way to predict the next shooter every time another incident occurs (and by the way, nothing PREDICTS behavior – certain behaviors may be indicated, but none can be PREDICTED).  But the reality is that there is virtually nothing we can do because, even when some people see the signs, nothing is done because “if you see something, say something” is not socially acceptable, or is contrary to HIPAA (when the see-er is a mental or medical health professional), or is something that “…I was going to do later…” or whatever.  Families, bosses, co-workers, fellow classmates, etc. see things every day that are indicators of potential violent behavior, but do nothing because it is simply not politically correct or they’re busy or they did not realize what they were seeing or a million other excuses.
After every new incident comes another discussion of the same things, and the results are always the same – nothing gets changed, because nothing can really be changed.  Because even when problems are indicated before they occur, we still almost never do anything about them until after they have occurred.
Security professionals do not control organizational purse strings or the magic key to the CEO’s psyche, so we cannot implement the things which we know will pretty much stop the bad guys from doing most bad things most of the time.  And all of the studies and nice terminology and fancy graphs will never change that fact.  (And while agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service do a great job of behavioral analysis, remember that they have an entire division of professionals who do nothing but behavioral analysis and have the resources to investigate and check out their findings and leads and have to “only” protect a handful of key assets.)
So in the end,  all we as security professionals can really DO (as opposed to discussing theory and hypothesis) is do the best we can with resources our bosses choose to expend – that is, protect to the best of our abilities, with whatever resources we have been allotted, whatever our bosses have decided are our key assets. Period.