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The Canadian Association of Threat Assessment Professionals

CATAP Guidelines for the Practice of Threat Assessment and Management 

1. Introduction

Violence risk assessment and management is conducted by diverse professionals working in a wide range of settings whose responsibilities include protecting people’s health and safety. Some professionals draw distinctions between violence risk assessment and management and threat assessment and management. As there is no consensus regarding which (if any) of these distinctions is valid, and as most are of limited practical importance, we use the terms interchangeably in the Guidelines.

The purpose of the Guidelines is to promote best practices with respect to violence risk assessment and management for the benefit of those directly involved in and affected by such activities, as well as for the benefit of the general public. The Guidelines are aspirational in nature and intent. They recommend rather than require specific activities and conduct, and they aim to help professionals exercise good judgment rather than to restrict or replace professional judgement. The Guidelines are also general. They are not exhaustive in scope and not applicable to all situations professionals may encounter in their practice. In particular, the Guidelines are not applicable to the conduct of administration, research and program evaluation, pedagogical activities, or legal consultation. Finally, the Guidelines are intended to supplement rather than supplant other relevant legal, professional, or ethical standards. 

2. Definitions

2.1 Violence is a plan, attempt, threat, or act by one or more persons that recklessly or deliberately causes fear of, potential, or actual physical harm or grave psychological harm to one or more other persons without lawful authority. Although the range of conduct that falls within this definition of violence is broad, by its very nature it is likely to violate criminal, civil, human rights, employment, occupational health and safety, or other law. 

2.2 Risk is the effect of uncertainty on the achievement of objectives. The uncertainty stems from incompleteness or imprecision in language, knowledge, or information. The objectives may be strategic, tactical, logistical, or operational in nature. Risk typically is used to characterize negative outcomes that may vary in terms of nature, seriousness, imminence, frequency, duration, or likelihood.

2.3 Violence risk assessment, also known as threat assessment, is the process of gathering information about one or more people to understand their potential for violence. 

2.4 Violence risk management, also known as threat management, is the process of developing plans to mitigate people’s potential for violence. 

2.5 Persons of interest are people whose violence risk is being assessed or managed.

2.6 Potential victims are people who may be the target of violence perpetrated by persons of interest.

2.7 Threat assessment professionals are people who deliver violence risk assessment and management services to persons of interest or potential victims.

3. Orienting Guidelines

3.1 Threat assessment professionals strive to respect and achieve the ultimate goal of violence risk assessment and management, which is to prevent violence or minimize the impact of violence on potential victims. To this end, inter alia, they assist in identifying, implementing, and evaluating interventions that are both feasible and likely to be effective in a given case.

3.2 Threat assessment professionals strive to achieve and maintain a high level of competence. To this end, inter alia, they familiarize themselves with the scientific and professional literature regarding the various forms of violence with which they work or are likely to encounter. Such literature includes books, chapters, journal articles, and other documents relevant to the nature of, causes of, risk factors for, and management of various forms of violence.

3.3 Threat assessment professionals strive to be aware of and compliant with the laws, policies, standards, and other documents that guide or are relevant to their work. To this end, inter alia, they familiarize themselves with existing laws, policies, standards, and other documents, as well as any updates or changes to same over time.

3.4 Threat assessment professionals strive to respect the basic legal rights and dignity of all persons involved in or affected their work, including persons of interest and potential victims. To this end, inter alia, they ensure that people are adequately informed of and are given the opportunity to exercise their constitutional, human, and privacy rights, as relevant and appropriate. This includes that people provide informed consent (i.e., their explicit, knowing, and voluntary agreement) prior to participating in violence risk assessment and management and are accompanied by legal counsel, union representatives, or other personal support people, as relevant and appropriate. It also includes using practices that are appropriate in light of and do not discriminate on the basis of gender, age, mental or physical disability, culture, language, or other important group differences.

3.5 Threat assessment professionals strive for fairness and impartiality in their work. To this end, inter alia, they seek to minimize potential bias and maximize transparency and accountability, as relevant and appropriate. Steps to minimize potential bias includes monitoring their own values, perceptions, and reactions; as well as avoiding conflicts of interest or multiple relationships with respect to, or advocacy on behalf of, people involved in or affected by their work. In the face of potential bias, they refuse to undertake work, recuse themselves from work in progress, or seek peer consultation concerning other steps to mitigate potential bias. Steps to maximize transparency and accountability include proving complete, accurate, and prompt information to people involved in or affected by their work, as relevant and appropriate.

3.6 Threat assessment professionals strive to deliver violence risk assessment and management services that are individualized. To this end, inter alia, they familiarize themselves with and consider the totality of relevant circumstances in a given case, as relevant and appropriate, regardless of any specific procedures they use. Such circumstances include the behavior, personal characteristics, living conditions, and plans or intentions for the future of both persons of interest and potential victims.

4. Procedural Guidelines

4.1 Threat assessment professionals strive to gather and integrate all the information that is reasonably necessary to do their work. To this end, inter alia, they identify the information that is reasonably necessary and then attempt to gather it. They gather information from diverse sources, including interviews, observations, official records, and other documents. They use or rely on specialized information-gathering techniques (e.g., open source information searches, covert surveillance), where relevant and appropriate. They attempt to corroborate critical information. They acknowledge in their communications when critical information they relied on was unavailable, incomplete, or outdated.

4.1.1 Threat assessment professionals do not avoid gathering or reviewing information in the form of direct interviews with or observations of persons of interest, unless doing so would be inappropriate, unfeasible, or unsafe (e.g., an interview would compromise an ongoing investigation being conducted for another purpose, an interview would jeopardize the safety of potential victims, the assessment is being conducted in a consultative or liaison role).

4.1.2 Threat assessment professionals do not rely on a single source of information in their work, and in particular do not rely on uncorroborated statements made by persons of interest.

4.1.3 Threat assessment professionals do not rely on information that is or is likely to be outdated, unless gathering updated information would be inappropriate, unfeasible, or unsafe.

4.2 Threat assessment professionals strive to be alert for signs that persons of interest or potential victims may have physical or mental health problems and take appropriate action when such signs are apparent. To this end, inter alia, they gather information about potential health problems, document and communicate any signs of potential health problems that come to their attention or undertake or recommend specialized assessment or treatment of health problems, as relevant and appropriate. They take care to respect the dignity of people with health problems, and in particular to avoid infringing on their legal rights. They consider carefully the extent to which health problems may affect the risks posed by persons of interest or the management of those risks. 

4.2.1 Threat assessment professionals do not assume themselves or encourage others to assume that the mere presence of mental health problems means those problems are relevant to risk.

4.2.2 Threat assessment professionals do not assess or treat physical or mental health problems unless legally qualified to do so and unless they can do so in a way that maintains fairness and impartiality and avoids multiple relationships.

4.3 Threat assessment professionals strive to identify and use evaluative devices or procedures. To this end, inter alia, they acknowledge the limitations of unaided or unstructured professional judgment, seek education and training about evaluative devices or procedures germane to their work, and use evaluative devices and procedures, where relevant and appropriate. They use evaluative devices and procedures only as recommended by authorities in the field, such as the developers. They acknowledge in their communications the strengths and limitations of any evaluative devices or procedures they used. 

4.3.1 Threat assessment professionals do not rely solely on unaided or unstructured professional judgement when evaluative devices or procedures germane to their work exist and could be appropriately used.

4.3.2 Threat assessment professionals do not use evaluative devices or procedures unless adequately trained and experienced in their application, administration, and interpretation.

4.3.3 Threat assessment professionals do not use evaluative devices or procedures unless familiar with the professional literature regarding their reliability (consistency) and validity (accuracy).

4.3.4 Threat assessment professionals do not rely solely on a single evaluative device or procedure in their work.

4.3.5 Threat assessment professionals do not report the findings of evaluative devices or procedures that are quantitative (i.e., algorithmic, statistical, or actuarial) in nature without a complete interpretation or explanation of the quantitative findings.

4.4 Threat assessment professionals strive to develop comprehensive management plans. To this end, inter alia, they develop plans that identify potentially effective management strategies, tactics, and logistics. They ensure that plans target all important risk factors, but only important risk factors. They recognize the need for and facilitate coordination among the various professionals responsible for risk management, where relevant and appropriate. They acknowledge in their communications the need to evaluate and revise plans. 

4.4.1 Threat assessment professionals do not deliver risk management services without adequate training and experience in those specific services.

4.4.2 Threat assessment professionals do not deliver risk management services without involving and collaborating with allied professionals, as relevant and appropriate.

4.4.3 Threat assessment professionals do not deliver risk management services without arranging for backup or coverage, as relevant and appropriate.

4.5 Threat assessment professionals strive to communicate with others about their work in a manner that is complete, accurate, and clear. To this end, inter alia, they include in their oral or written communications all the information necessary, but only the information necessary, to describe their actions, findings, or opinions. They use non-technical language when communicating with people who are not threat assessment professionals, as relevant and appropriate. They acknowledge the limitations of their work.

4.5.1 Threat assessment professionals do not misrepresent or distort information included in their communications.

4.5.2 Threat assessment professionals do not ignore or omit potentially relevant information from their communications.

4.5.3 Threat assessment professionals do not use jargon in their communications unless necessary and unless they provide adequate definition or explanation. 

4.5.4 Threat assessment professionals do not present their findings or opinions without qualifying them in light of limitations in the information on which they were based.

4.5.5 Threat assessment professionals do not present their findings or opinions without qualifying them in light of the contextual and dynamic nature of risk.  
 

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