Trending Topics

New report highlights patterns in mass attacks in public spaces

The 72-page report analyzed 173 incidents that resulted in three or more individuals injured or killed across public or semi-public spaces



By Ashley Silver

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) released Mass Attacks in Public Spaces: 2016-2020 this week, a report examining 173 incidents of targeted violence and highlighting commonalities among attackers.

“NTAC’s exploration of each attacker’s background, motivation and pre-attack behavior will assist the Secret Service and our partners in our shared violence prevention efforts. We encourage our public safety partners to review the information within this report and apply it to their own practices for providing a safe environment in communities across the country,” Kimberly Cheatle, U.S. Secret Service Director, said.

Although the attacks contained within the report represent an array of locations, including businesses and workplaces, schools, houses of worship, military bases and residential complexes, one common thread is that in many of these cases, the attackers had a known affiliation with the place they chose to attack.

Upon further analysis, researchers found that there were concerning signs about most attackers’ emotional and mental states witnessed by family members, friends and those who interacted with them regularly, with many of these individuals fearing that the attacker would hurt someone before they carried out a violent attack. Over half of the attackers experienced mental health symptoms before or at the time of their attacks, including depression, psychotic symptoms and suicidal thoughts, according to the report.

Another commonality uncovered showed that many attackers had a documented history of physically aggressive or intimidating behaviors. This was evidenced by prior violent criminal arrests/charges, domestic violence or other acts of violence toward others. Half of the attackers were motivated by grievances and used the attacks as a form of retribution or retaliation for perceived wrongs related to personal, domestic or workplace issues.

The report found that most of the attackers used firearms to carry out violent incidents and many of those firearms were possessed illegally at the time of the attack.

Stress and belief systems or ideologies also played a role, with one-quarter of the attackers subscribing to a belief system involving conspiracies or hateful ideologies, including anti-government, anti-Semitic and misogynistic views. The report also includes key violence prevention strategies that include various tools, training, resources and policies to help prevent future tragedies.

“Everyone in the community plays a role in violence prevention,” Dr. Lina Alathari, chief of National Threat Assessment Center, said. “The latest NTAC report provides an unprecedented analysis to support our public safety partners and affirms that targeted violence is preventable if communities have the right information and resources to recognize warning signs and intervene.”

Click here to view or download the report.

Acting Police Chief Pamela Smith says the tracking tags have already helped the department locate several stolen cars this year
The department also announced the cities that will be added to the National Public Safety Partnership in 2024, as well as a national summit on violent crime
This recent tragedy underscores the need for police to advance their readiness against hybrid active killers
Many PDs find themselves without available funds to conduct training necessary to better prepare them for when a crisis occurs; here’s a solution to that problem