Warning Signs: Risk of Violence

  • Recently acquiring weapons
  • Carrying or brandishing a weapon
  • Fascination with firearms
  • Following or approaching a possible target of violence
  • Bizarre or aggressive behavior
  • Statements or behaviors that suggest desperation, hopelessness, and/or thoughts of suicide. Visit Suicide Prevention for more information on depression and suicide.
  • Attempts to harm self/cries for help
  • Resistance to change or reasonable limits
  • Overreaction to changes in policies or procedures
  • Repeated violation of policies; pushing the limits
  • Personalizing decisions and feedback
  • Statements indicating approval of the use of violence to resolve a problem
  • Statements indicating identification with perpetrators of violence in real life, movies, books, etc.
  • An unusual degree or kind of interest in another person that does not fit the context or relationship
  • Inappropriate communication with or about someone upon whom the person seems focused
  • Unusual interest in security
  • Extreme changes in behavior
  • Numerous unresolved conflicts with others
  • Paranoia/distrust
  • Depressed mood
  • Withdrawal; isolation
  • Thoughts that others wish one harm
  • Thoughts that one’s mind is dominated by forces beyond one’s control
  • A belief that thoughts are being placed in one’s head by an outside force
  • Expressing extreme admiration or affection for someone
  • Expressing a sense of unique, special history or destiny with someone else
  • Admonishments to someone to change his/her lifestyle
  • Speaking of religious or historical themes that don’t fit the context or situation
  • Spoken or written content that is disjointed, sinister, or bizarre; written content could appear in academic writing, in email, on social networking sites, or in other writings
  • Statements about being someone else (i.e., other than the speaker’s actual identity)
  • Clearly inappropriate references to mental illness, psychiatric care, or medication
  • Threats of violence
  • References to death, suicide, weapons, destruction, etc.
  • References to persons who have carried out attacks
  • References to knowledge of security, such as security officers, keys, work practices
  • Talk about stalking, surveillance, knowledge of someone’s activities
  • Talk of unpaid debts the speaker believes others owe him/her or of other entitlements
  • Poor problem solving
  • Failure to learn from past behavior
  • Decreased attention to personal hygiene
  • Substance abuse

**This information was drawn from material presented by Gene Deisinger, Ph.D., Associate Director of Public Safety and Deputy Chief of Police, Iowa State University Police Division, at Luther College on October 29, 2008.