About Featured Expert: Dr. Steve Albrecht, has spent the last 25 years gaining expertise in the field of threat assessment and situational awareness. He look to keep people safe in the workplace and in schools. Now he’s here on the podcast today to share his insights into the field of threat assessment and situational awareness. You can learn more about what Dr Steve has to offer at drstevealbrecht.com.
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Marcus: Hey, there folks. Welcome again to the Science Of Skill Podcast. This is Marcus Roth taking over for Coach Dan. I am on the horn today with Dr. Steve Albrecht, where he has spent the last 25 years gaining expertise in the field of threat assessment. He look to keep people safe in the workplace and in schools. Now he’s here on the podcast today to share his insights. Hello, Steve, This time we’re going to be diving into more of the threat assessment field in everyday use. Tell me, Steve, how did you get into the field of threat assessment and what exactly is it?
Steve Albrecht: I worked for the police department in San Diego for 15 years. I left that job and went back to graduate school. In that time span I started writing books. I wrote police tactical books. Then I started to see a shift in the landscape. This would be the 90s where we looked at workplace violence starting to emerge from “going postal” into the real world. Then after Columbine in 1999, that’s when we saw a shift in this country over to school violence and things are happening at churches and malls and public places and start to focus my work in that area. Threat assessment is really looking at dangerous situations and dangerous people and not predicting violence, but looking at their behavior and then figuring out what to do.
MR: You mentioned an interesting topic about Columbine, the trend shifted. Was it pretty much that crisp in the late 90s? In the past, was this threat a relevant concern?
SA: I flipped the switch in this country. We went from thinking about this is kind of a government or post office or rare thing over to a situation where now we saw armed attackers in this case working in a team actually going after a target and having a plan and putting that plan into operation. That became the focal point and the switch point in this country for looking at violence as a planned event in the terms of mass murderers and mass shootings.
MR: Many of our listeners are older gentlemen. We best think for older folks to learn maybe how to not get seriously injured and how to actually avoid physically conflict that might be incoming. Steve, what is your advice for those who are looking to avoid physical conflict?
DS: Part of it is avoiding it by situational awareness. Sometimes we have our head in our phones or we’re stuck on what we’re driving, to thinking about where we’re going or coming back from. We don’t think about how we get from place to place. We get out of the car. Situational awareness is really a big one. Not looking like a target. Not being vulnerable. Being assertive.
MR: Like grocery bags. Right? Your hands are filled with groceries and stuff like that. I feel like that’s a signal.
SA: Exactly. Exactly. Situational awareness is who’s around me, what are they doing, are they coming closer to me, do I need to be aware of who’s coming into my personal space.
MR: Let’s say there is an attacker coming up to you. What are the warning signs that a man or a woman is on the verge of getting violent with you or maybe with someone around?
SA: You can see people that get into pre-attack mode. They flex their fists. They clench their teeth. They talk with their teeth. Their face gets red. They move into a defensive stance. These are pretty obvious things that we see, but sometimes we ignore them. Is that guy mad at me? The answer is yes. Is that guy coming towards me? The answer yes. I’m a big fan of intuition. I think if we are intuitive in what we see and the people around us, we can read those signals faster than if we don’t rely on our intuition.
MR: You’ve been this doing this for a long time now. You must have a story or two for listeners for the topic at hand. Has anyone ever written back to you about an experience where they’ve diffused a situation or someone was right on the verge of doing something incredibly violent and they were able to reverse the situation?
SA: I teach training programs for government. A lot of people in government that deal with really high risk folks. This would be the tax collector’s office or unemployment insurance or welfare, those types of things, child protective services. The people that I train deal with really difficult, angry, threatening, emotional, unstable people all day long. Sometimes in the training they go, “You know Steve, that’s not going to work out. You don’t understand my real world.” Then they use it and the techniques we talk about the deescalation and the verbal techniques and the space and distance. They use it and they write back and go, “You know what? I thought you’re full of crap, but this stuff actually works.”
MR: Are there any other good phrases you tell the listeners here that they can just keep in mind and maybe say to themselves in the mirror a few times or are actively looking to get better at this to avoid a conflict?
SA: Thought stopping is where you ask the person a question they’re not anticipating. Let’s say that you’re going up to the ATM and you want to get some money out of the bank and there’s some sketchy dudes standing there. You come up to them and you go, “Hey buddy, have you eaten at this restaurant next door here? Is it pretty good? How’s the food over there?” He’d be like, “What?” It throws them off his game. They have a script inside their head. Like bank robbers for example have a script. The script is I’m going to come in. I’m going to pull out the demand note. I’m going to show them my gun. I’m going to do this.
MR: That even works even if you’re not doing something nefarious, right? If you’re just literally at the ATM and someone asks you a question, you just stop ATM-ing. Right? It puts you in a different frame of mind. Almost to the sense it extends the olive branch in a weird way I would say. It’s psychologically. If you’re looking to help them out about the restaurant by giving your opinion, you’re probably not likely to want to rob them moments later.
SA: It’s a distraction technique. It just knocks them off their game.
MR: Before we end here, let’s brush upon workplace safety a little bit more. What would be the number one thing you think most people who are in a workplace … Let’s say in a white collar environment, what’s the number one thing that they aren’t doing that they should start doing to run a safer life in the workplace?
SA: When people get ready to do workplace violence, mass attacks, they typically leak information. They will tell their coworkers. They don’t tell the target. If they want to shoot their boss or another employee, they don’t tell that person. That would be too direct. What they tell is the third party. They leak it to somebody else. We need to have the courage in the workplace to tell our bosses or HR or safety and security or even the police what we heard. Many times in these situations people say, “Yeah. That guy told me he’s going to shoot his boss, but I didn’t believe him.”