The suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi is reverberating across this Nation.

The suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi is reverberating across this Nation.  We too often get captured by issues that may be germane but fundamentally miss the solution.  The problem with bullying is that it presupposes a bully exhibiting bullying behavior.  This only reacts to bullying; it does not prevent bullying and any subsequent violence.  This is not effective, responsible nor defensible.

It is only when one realizes that this behavior is in actuality intent-driven “aggressive” behavior; that there is a Continuum of Aggression, and through this continuum one can learn the “precursors” to bullying, through which one actually prevent bullying.  Until we learn the Continuum of Aggression we are relegated to reacting to bullying, not preventing it.

Incidentally, though this Continuum of Aggression (Aggression Continuum), we can also prevent most forms of “aggressive” maladies on our school campus that have direct correlation with “wellbeing, safety, productivity and learning.” 

The Problem

When asked by parents and students about the safety of their campuses, most institutions tend to respond by focusing on providing policy and procedures, enhanced campus security force, more campus lighting, emergency call boxes, emergency notification system and escort services to accompany concerned students as well as threat assessment teams. While useful, they do little to prevent aggressive and violent behavior, and tend to make us feel safe rather than be safe.

As a response to the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech (VT) and Northern Illinois University (NIU), an increasing number of institutions have formed Threat Assessment Teams (TAT) to identify and respond to potential threats of violence. TAT members can quickly become overwhelmed by the number of subjective observations, like, “weird, scary, strange, or threatening;” how does a team distinguish between simple aberrant or disruptive behavior and truly threatening (aggressive) behavior? Each observation must be investigated thoroughly, for in the absence of true due diligence, institutions put themselves at risk of significant liability, but more importantly the potential loss of life.

Subjective accusations made by faculty require immediate and comprehensive investigation that after review often prove overstated or long overdue and consume significant human resources, time, and money. 

Current programs fall short because they:

  1. Are primarily reactive in nature
  2. Do not get out in front of the problem and prevent aggression
  3. Are insufficiently pro-active, which compromises an ability to take timely, effective action
  4. Are far too subjective, often confusing aberrant, disruptive behavior with aggressive behavior
  5. Do not achieve the pre-requisites for legal defensibility.

The Solution

  1. CAPS provides a practical, scalable and affordable approach, which focuses strictly on aggression-specific behavior to make a safer campus.  As exemplified by the shooting at Fort Hood, when observers rely on subjective references of culture and mental illness, they miss the clear objective and culturally-neutral signs specific to aggression thereby missing the opportunity to prevent violent encounters
  2. The CAPS Solution has the following attributes:
  1. Easily taught and readily learned objective observables of emerging aggression
  2. The Meter of Emerging Aggression which provides measurable quantifiable markers which provide the basis for an objective way to identify emerging aggression and prevent it before a serious threat or crisis occurs.
  3. Timely communications between trained personnel in a system which records aggressive activity over time and enables early precursor-identification, thereby permitting timely intervention to prevent, not react after the fact.
  4. A forensic process with longitudinal tracking that, through the use of neutral and quantitative observables, more readily lends itself to legal defensibility than current approaches

3.      How Is This Achieved? — The Three Components to the CAPS Solution

  1. First Observers (FOs) who provide campus-wide eyes and ears in order to identify potential aggressors.  These Observers apply learned objective indicators to measure emerging human aggression.  The use of objective indicators avoids both the stereotyping of individuals and prevents an overwhelming number of subjective sightings, which must be investigated. FOs include, faculty members, current frontline security personnel, residential supervisors (RAs), facility managers, student affairs staff and other personnel who are already in positions to observe and report.
  2. A software-based platform known as the Meter of Emerging Aggression™ which records and tracks the measurable indicators observed by the First Observers.  The software provides a Meter of Emerging Aggression Dropdown Tool of objective indicators and a recording mechanism for FOs to chronicle the indicators observed. It also records what the third component − the Qualified Responders (QRs) − observes upon engagement, how they respond, and the result of their engagement.  The software makes the process highly objective because it utilizes scientific “cause and effect” principles and therefore provides a higher level of safety as well as legal defensibility.  The Meter of Emerging Aggression also has the capacity for longitudinal tracking of an individual’s behaviors over time, permitting an institution to track emerging aggressive behavior across departments, offices and venues, elements egregiously absent prior to the shootings at VT and NIU.
  3. Qualified Responders, typically members of Threat Assessment Teams and campus police who are CAPS trained and certified.  These participants learn how to:
    1. Evaluate the information made available by the First Observers
    2. Objectively assess the level of hostile intent and therefore the threat posed by the declared observables through the use of the Meter of Emerging Aggression
    3. Decide what action(s), if any, is to be taken
    4. Approach the perceived potential aggressor using established and tested methodologies
    5. Engage this aggressor with all needed resources
    6. Get-out-in-front of an aggressor’s Moment of Commitment, thereby providing an opportunity to prevent  a violent incident

Upon completion of the intervention, the QR members can record their engagement and results, demonstrating the use of scientific “cause and effect” principles within CAPS’s Meter of Emerging Aggression.  This helps QR members remain objective, which places them on a path to legal defensibility and offers an extra measure of protection for students, faculty, and staff in any institution.

The CAPS Solution is based on years of research into aggressive behavior, and the recognition that practical tools to identify, measure, and assess specifically emerging human aggression were necessary. As a result, CAPS is the most effective system for achieving maximum campus safety and security in a practical, scalable and affordable way.

An Example of CAPS at work in Higher Education

Meter of Emerging Aggression Dropdown Tool

An individual is walking across the campus of a large state university. A member of the First Observers (FOs) – and there are many on campus – using “objective and measurable” indicators, witnesses some of their learned observables that illustrate this individual might be a potential aggressor. CAPS provides specific body language, behavioral and communication observables that can identify one of five levels of risk from “mild” to “extreme”. This is shown in the CAPS Meter of Emerging Aggression Dropdown Tool on the right starting with “mild” illustrated on the gauge as green through “extreme” illustrated in red. The CAPS-trained First Observer (FO), immediately relays this information by cell phone to an on duty Qualified Responder (QR).  These objective observables are recorded on the Objective Recording System’s CAPS Meter of Emerging Aggression Dropdown Tool shown in the graphic as Behavior, Communication, Interaction, Demeanor, Facial Expression, Movement, Clothing and Articles. These provide an accurate measurement of emerging aggression and the level of hostile intent, and thereby the threat posed by this aggressor. One or more “on-duty” Qualified Responders (QRs) can then objectively evaluate the level of hostile intent and decide whether to take action, and if so, what action. These Qualified Responders can ask First Observers for more information before arriving at a course of action, which ranges from no action to a variety of interventions, including the arrest of an alleged aggressor who rises to law enforcement’s threshold of “probable cause”. Upon completion of their engagement with the alleged aggressor, the QR members can record their interview and results demonstrating the use of scientific “cause and effect” principles within CAPS’s Meter of Emerging Aggression

The same process is followed in classrooms, residence halls, dining halls, stadiums, etc. – wherever an aggressive action can occur on campus.  The International Association of Assembly Managers (IAAM) has expressed a growing alarm by university stadium managers that aggressive behavior among fans is causing an increasing number of fans to stay away from sporting events, preferring to experience them on high definition 52 inch screens in the comfort and safety of their own homes.  The goal of the CAPS process is to prevent violence and aggression in most any form, through the identification of the potential aggressor and timely intervention by certified personnel.

Make your campus safer by contacting John Byrnes, Founder and CEO, Center for Aggression Management for more information about CAPS (Campus Aggression Prevention System ) by phone at 407-718-5637, or by email at


  1. This is a very thorough approach to violence prevention. And who wouldn’t agree that prevention is preferable to an after-the-fact response/reaction? I applaud your work and, as a concerned voter, will encourage its adoption wherever it is needed.

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