Let’s address the issue of #ViolencePrevention: Part Five: The Solution (Five Part Series)

Why Current Programs Fall Short of Our Expectations:

Realizing that there is no absolute prevention or predictability, we have discussed why current methods to prevent the next shooting fall short of our expectations.  In Part One, we discussed why Mental Health Assessments use probabilities, which are important, but do not offer reliable predictability as to who will be our next shooter or terrorists.  In Part Two, we had a similar discussion about Profiling.  I have asked the question in the past and will do so again now, why do we not use Israeli Security Methods, used in Ben-Gurion International Airport, here in the United States? 

We tried applying the methods used in Ben-Gurion International Airport at Boston Logan Airport and it failed two basic predicates of security here in the United States.  You now know from Part Two that “Profiling” tells us that within a certain group of individuals there is a higher probability of a terrorist, but it does not tell us who the next terrorist is!  The Israelis bridge this gap by interrogating every individual who enters their airport and although this works well at the much smaller Ben-Gurion International Airport, it failed for two key reasons at Boston Logan Airport.  First, the use of profiling and interrogations will not pass the test of a cross examination by civil libertarians (ACLU).  Second, if we attempted to interrogate passengers and visitors entering the doors at an airport the size of Boston Logan, no one will make their flights. It requires far too much time and inconveniences and I would suggest that American Citizens would not stand for it.

The closest thing that comes to the “Israeli Method” is a program started by a good friend and colleague, Peter DiDomenica, a very bright officer with a law degree, who at the time was a key person at Boston Logan Airport; Peter helped develop the methods (SPOT/BDO programs) now used in airports around the United States. Peter and his colleagues trained literally thousands of airport security personnel around the United States and the United Kingdom. Peter now speaks about the need for TSA to incorporate our Cognitive Aggression Continuum.

The Difference:

Our programs divide aggression into two categories, Primal (adrenaline-driven) Aggressor and Cognitive (intent-driven) Aggressors.  Peter would admit that airports today focus on Primal Aggression, looking for stress, anxiety, darting eyes, (in the extreme, the red faced ready to explode person), etc., these indicators are indicative of a smuggler, or someone who has missed their flight and explodes with frustration and anger, but these indicators do not aid us in identifying our next terrorist or Cognitive (intent-driven) Aggressor.   We have come to learn that terrorists not only disconnect from their victims, they also disconnect from their own wellbeing and take on a profound calm. They do not have the spate of adrenaline of the Primal Aggressor, they are calm, resolved to their fate, their goal is to give up their life for a cause.  Because of this intention (and there is no greater human intention) their body responds to this intention by losing animation.  The first thing we see is, what the military refer to as, the “thousand yard stare;” a profound disconnection with our own wellbeing. But it is more than this, their whole body language and behavior reflect this intention, the Israelis called it the “walking dead.” 

As an example: TSA’s SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques) is predicated on Primal (adrenaline-driven) Aggression Indicators, not Cognitive (intent-driven) Aggression indicators.  On September 21, 2007, I explained to the lead research person for TSA SPOT that Primal Aggression would aid them in finding adrenaline-driven aggressors, like smugglers, but, in the absence of Cognitive Aggression, they would not identify terrorists. This fact has been confirmed by the 2010 GAO (U.S. Government Accountability Office) Report telling us that over 1,000 smugglers have been caught in our US Airports but not one terrorists, even though we know that at least 17 known terrorist have traversed our airports. The more recent November 2013 GAO Report determined that TSA’s SPOT efforts produce results that are no better than baseline “chance.”  So, we know why current programs do not meet our expectations of predicting who our next shooter or terrorist might be, what is a reasonably reliable system or method?

Predicated upon the seminal Safe School Initiative Study, a collaborative effort conducted by US Secret Service, the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Justice; which states, “There is no accurate or useful profile of the school shooter … or for assessing the risk that a particular student may pose for school based targeted violence.”  What this study points out is that profiling tells us that within a certain group of individuals there is a higher probability that a person could become a shooter or terrorist; however, it doesn’t tell us who the next shooter is!

The Solution — The Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua:

However, within the body of this Safe School Initiative Study, following solution is revealed:

An inquiry should focus instead on the student’s behavior and communication to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack. … The ultimate question to answer in an inquiry is whether a student is on a path to a violent attack, and if so, to determine how fast they are moving and where intervention may be possible.  

This has been the basis of our work at the Center for Aggression Management over the past 19 years (well before the study was completed), to identify someone “on the path to a violent attack” or as we call it “emerging aggression.”  We began developing our Aggression Continuum that would reflect a person’s emerging aggression. Combine this knowledge with the distinction between Primal and Cognitive Aggression and you have the Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua as shown below.

The first thing to note is that this graphic illustrates a Continuum of Aggression that reflects emerging aggressive behavior from its outset through its ultimate expression of violence; a Trigger Phase, an Escalation Phase and a Crisis Phase. To understand this offers you the opportunity to see the precursors to violence, engage and prevent it from occurring.  What you are observing on this graphic is the body language, behavior and communication indicators of someone “on the path to a violent attack!” Combine the Primal Aggression Continuum on the right and the Cognitive Aggression Continuum on the left and now all of the body language, behavior and communication indicators fall into place and become empirical; setting the stage for the first truly object and measurable system that provides the most reliable means of preventing the next shooting or terrorist attack.

On the right you have Primal (adrenaline-driven) Aggression, starting at the baseline or Trigger Phase, where little explosions of adrenaline may be experienced but because they are coping with these triggers, all things are copasetic. All venues have their expected baseline of perceived “Triggering” behavior but it is when an individual stops coping with these triggers that the threat mechanisms fire off in their brain, they start producing adrenaline and they enter the Escalation Phase, we use the term “mounting anxiety.” Mounting Anxiety changes their body language, behavior and communication indicators in ways that we can recognize them; giving us the opportunity to engage and prevent further escalation. The earlier we engage them the easier it is to defuse and prevent the next Stage of Aggression.  As an example, someone who normally is pragmatic and methodical comes to work scattered and disjointed. Why? Because they are not coping with something, regardless of what may be causing it. It is in our best interest to engage this person, in a genuine and caring way and say, “You look a little scattered today, tell me about it?” This genuine and earnest investment of your time and energy will produce significant results.  Typically, given the opportunity, humans will respond by sharing what is causing their dilemma and when once shared will often release their burden to some degree and permit them to begin regaining their lost Quality of Judgment.  Primal Aggression is indicative of someone losing control of Quality of Judgment. The higher an aggressor escalates up the Primal Aggression Continuum, the greater their loss of Quality of Judgment and lesser your chances of diffusing them.   The lesson here is, engage as early as possible and prevent all subsequent escalation on this Aggression Continuum.  Does this work 100% of the time, of course not!  But this provides the most reliable means of getting out in front of a Primal Aggression and preventing further escalation.  Preventing an aggressor from traversing through the Escalation Phase into the Crisis Phase is where we see this person spiraling out of control into panic and or rage!

If Primal Aggression represents someone losing control (adrenaline-driven) what about conscious, deliberate aggression, where does this fit?  It doesn’t!  For this we developed the Cognitive (intent-driven) Aggression Continuum illustrating intent-driven aggression from its outset through its ultimate expression, the perpetrator of murder/suicide.  Cognitive Aggression is far more difficult to identify and diffuse if you don’t understand its components.   However, once understood, it is really quite easy.  Ask yourself, “What is your intent with this person or persons?”  Is it in your interest and theirs, therefore a “win/win,” as it should be; or is it in your interest and to their detriment.  In other words, you are going to victimize this person.  There are nine clearly defined phases/levels to the Cognitive Aggression Continuum, the first grouping are the victimizers, the next are the predators, who are more focused on a purpose than an individual (like robbery and criminal intent), and the highest phase/level of Cognitive Aggression is the perpetrator of murder/suicide, the most lethal of all aggressors, like Adam Lanza the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter. 

We, at the Center for Aggression Management, would describe this aggressor as a 9th Phase Cognitive Aggressor or perpetrator of murder/suicide; someone whose goal is to give up his life for a cause and his behavior reflects his intentions. Subsequent to this level of aggression is the 8th Phase Cognitive Aggressor, the “murderer” or in a military sense, “a combatant;” who is prepared to give up his life for a cause but intends to survive and again his behavior reflects his intentions.  Preceded by the 7th Phase Cognitive Aggression, the “Complicit Tactician,” who is complicit with the 9th and 8th Phase Cognitive Aggressor;  he wants certain people to die but will not kill them nor die for his cause; he will inspire others to do so (like the late-Osama bin Laden) or a terrorist handler or, in a domestic sense, an Accomplice.  The most important element to understand in the graphic is that you have Phases 1 through 6 to foresee or get out in front of the Accomplice, Murder or perpetrator of Murder/Suicide. You have 6 clearly defined phases/levels of precursors to get out in front of violence and prevent it!  As a way of illustrating a method called Snapwire using our Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua to identify and prevent a terrorist attack; this video is a collaboration between the U.S. Military, Abraxas (a CIA based private company) and the Center for Aggression Management’s Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua: http://www.aggressionmanagement.com/Snapwire/SnapWire_Demo.html

We, as humans, tend to get transfixed on the threat of violence; it is part of our human condition.  But focusing on the lower levels of our Aggression Continuum provides significant solutions addressing issues of “bullying” and “conflict.”  Programs called, “Bullying” presuppose someone exhibiting bullying behavior; you therefore are reacting to initial bullying, not preventing it!  One of the most standard methods of addressing aggressive behavior is called “Conflict Resolution;” however, like “bullying,” Conflict Resolution presupposes conflict; you are reacting to initial conflict, not preventing it!  Since there are individuals who will express their conflict and bullying with violence, if you truly wish to prevent violence you must first get out in front of bullying and conflict.  How? Bullying and Conflict can be found at the fourth phase/level of the Aggression Continuum. Once you learn the objective and measurable observables (precursors) of phases one, two and three, you will be able to get out in front of bullying and conflict and prevent them. 

Can we rely fully on body language, behavior and communication indicators?  Of course not, this is why we developed the Judicious Interview.  The goal of the Judicious Interview is to ask questions or take actions that produce predicable responses (use of Scientific Cause and Effect Principles) that illustrate hostile or malicious intent so as to identify an aggressive “person of interest.”

Unlike therapy, the initial goal of the Judicious Interview is not about forming a connection with the aggressor but to identify an aggressor and diffuse/prevent any aggressive act.  Once an aggressor has been identified, building rapport and trust may be useful and applied to persuade the aggressor away from their path of violence, while they begin to regain their quality of judgment.  The purpose of the Judicious Interview is to better understand the level of aggression and identify their mission or target and begin a diffusing/preventing process.

Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS)

Our most sophisticated product is our validated Critical Aggression Prevention System, its effectiveness is unmatched.  There are three legs to this system; the first two are training tools.  We recognize that you cannot train all people with all skills; we therefore integrate scalable training of Aggression First Observers (trained to make objective and measurable observations and report them based upon policy and procedure) and Certified Aggression Managers (responders trained to read and understand emerging aggression as well as apply corresponding skill sets so as to maximize their diffusing/mitigating results).  The third leg to this validated system is the Meter of Emerging Aggression (MEA) Software Service.  Built upon the Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua and more, this software offers a proposed level/phase of aggression and thereby the presumption of threat.  MEA enables its users to record and track aggressive behavior in a way that does not encroach on individuals rights of privacy and validates their efforts in real time.

It is not our objective in this article to go into great detail about our unique and proprietary Meter of Emerging Aggression Software Service and its role in our validated Critical Aggression Prevention System. This System provides the most reliable means to identify the precursors to bullying, conflict and violence, record and track emerging aggression in an empirical and forensic way, as well as, offering the highest probability for prevention or effective mitigation.   

Are you a Security or Law Enforcement Professional?

If you are a Security or Law Enforcement Professional, you have likely read the stellar study conducted by the highly respected Gavin de Becker, who published the book, “Just 2 Seconds.”  Though his study we learned that the time span between the horrific Moment of Commitment (when a weapon is pulled and the assailant begins firing) and the Moment of Completion (when the last round is discharged) is as little as just 2 seconds. Further we learn:

    1. If you have chosen Executive Security as your profession and you and your executive are 15 feet from the assailant there is only an 18% chance that you can protect your client from the assailant’s bullet.
    2. If you are in Corporate Security or Campus Security and your objective is to use Crisis Response or Active Shooters Response; it is highly probable that you will respond over those slain during those horrific first 2 seconds.
    3. If you are in Law Enforcement, ask yourself, are you trained only to respond or is there real value to your officers and constituency that you are able to get out in front of violence and prevent it?

These reactive methods fall short of our expectations; as Security and Law Enforcement Professionals, we must make every effort to get out in front of the horrific Moment of Commitment!  The Critical Aggression Prevention System provides the most reliable means to observe the precursors, getting out in front of violence and preventing it.

In Part Five, it is our objective to simply offer a foundational understanding of our Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua and how it enables us to see the precursors and thereby offering the most reliable means to get out in front of bullying, conflict and violence and prevent these maladies.

If you would like more information on our Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua or our validated Critical Aggression Prevention System simply call us at 407-718-5637 or email us at JohnByrnes@AggressionManagement.com


  1. james

    Dr. Byrnes,

    Again, Part Five of your series has stimulated my thinking. First off, I would like to include a link that presents the Primal & Cognitive Aggression Continua in a larger format for easier study:


    One thing I would like to (perhaps presumptively) add is my view that conflict is a given in life: we all experience conflict everyday. The real difficulty of conflict is finding a way to handle it without passively giving in or putting oneself in further danger by violently fighting back.

    I would like to offer a metaphor for providing a framework or structure how this might be accomplished.

    Aikido is a martial art, but it is the only martial art that deals with an opponent by not harming them.
    This involves a series of physical actions which are meant to first, blend with your opponent’s energy, and second, re-direct that energy in ways that both sides come to no or little harm.

    Many communication techniques are available now that can be used to both blend and re-direct difficult people or situations. I am thinking that these proven actions can be learned and taught to anyone. I take this view from my own experience as a father (talking so my child listens and listening so that they will talk), as a volunteer mediator and as a resource for patients and families dealing with end-state cancer.

    I am thinking it would be extremely useful to have a trained group of “peer counselors” who could be easily dispatched to meet “on the spur of the moment” to people and situations who show signs of going through the phases set forth in your essay.

    With the amazing, unique and careful study you have brought to bear in the science of violence-prevention, plus the new information coming at us all the time from online and other sources, I am feeling a bit of hope these days that violence prevention–at least some measure of it–can easily become part of most people’s set of tools if the cultural will is there.

    It’s taken us years to begin to peel back the onion a bit on those isolated people who “are quiet,” “isolated” and/or exhibit hard to detect psychotic behavior. Unfortunately, the patterns you have described have too often been recognized after a violent incident, but the public at large now at least has the opportunity to notice patterns like this before any such violence occurs.

    Your valuable work will only empower and enable us with many more choices. And that is undeniably a profoundly good thing!

  2. John D Byrnes

    Well stated, James-

    Of course, all that you state is true and, as usual, very thoughtful (my highest compliment)!

    We at the Center make the distinction between assertive and aggressive behavior.  The “Assertive” person intends to win by being the best person that they can be (therefore constructive), whereas, the “Aggressive” person intends to wins by taking their opponents out (therefore destructive), too often, at any and all costs! If the aggressive person cannot win a discussion with logic or reason, they will besmirch their opponent’s character, intending to undermine their victim’s trust relationship and therefore influence on others around them.   The sad fact is that we see an increase in this “aggressive” conflict that too often leads to incidents.  “Assertive” engagement is far more constructive, it is seen as consequential but not threatening and therefore less as “conflict” and more as a constructive debate, the sharing of ideas that result in a better and more constructive resolution.

    Further, the earlier we engage someone on this Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua, the easier it is to diffuse, reconcile and prevent further escalation. Understanding this Continua, now brings with it a way to get out in front of conflict.  One of the greatest problems with “Conflict Resolution” is that it presupposes conflict.  You are reacting to conflict, not preventing it! This becomes essential as more individuals express their conflict with violence.  Once you realize that “Conflict” is at the 4th Phase/Level of this Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua, and you learn to identify and understand the first, second and third Phases/Levels of the Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua, you now have learned the precursors to “Conflict” and therefore can get out in front of conflict and prevent it!  We would much prefer that readers learn and prevent conflict, rather than react to it.

    Incidentally, “Bullying,” like “Conflict,” is at the fourth Phase/Level of the Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua and can likewise be prevented.



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