Targeted violence is increasingly threatening the safety and security of communities throughout the United States. Targeted violence refers to any violence against a specific target designed to intimidate or coerce a broader population, regardless of motive. Targeted violence includes school shootings, attacks on houses of worship, mass casualty incidents, hate crimes, and acts of terrorism. Over 645 mass shootings terrorized the United States in 2022, and the country is already on track to exceed that total in 2023. On May 13, 2023, President Biden declared white supremacy “the most dangerous terrorist threat” to the American homeland. The magnitude of these threats requires a whole-of-society response, including mental and behavioral health professionals, educators, community-based organizations, law enforcement, and philanthropy.
This framework provides practitioners with guidance on building sustainable programming in violence prevention that attracts long-term investment. Practitioners advancing this interdisciplinary field must proceed responsibly and ethically, drawing on available academic research to inform effective design, methods, and evaluation. By drawing on existing research and developing evaluable programs, practitioners contribute to the evidentiary support for the field over time.
In creating this framework, we consulted the 10 existing systematic reviews of the targeted violence and terrorism prevention field available at the time of publication. A systematic review is a meticulous examination of existing research to establish the state of current knowledge and to identify proven methods. After reviewing the systematic reviews, we identified evidence-informed takeaways that indicate promising practices and common missteps within the prevention field. Practitioners can consult these takeaways to adhere to promising practices in the design, implementation, and evaluation of their programs.
Understanding the public health model is essential to understanding the most effective ways to prevent targeted violence and terrorism. Practitioners across the United States including the McCain Institute’s Prevention Practitioners Network adapt the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) public health approach to violence prevention to their efforts to prevent targeted violence and terrorism. The public health approach is a four-step process consisting of defining and monitoring the problem, identifying risk and protective factors, developing and testing prevention strategies, and assuring widespread adoption. Central to this public health approach is the identification of risk and protective factors. While not predictive of violence, risk factors increase the likelihood that someone may turn violent. Protective factors, however, decrease this likelihood and provide a buffer against risk. Effective programs reduce risk factors and strengthen protective factors.
Many types of programs contribute to violence prevention. For this guide, we utilized the US Department of Homeland Security’s project tracks for their Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) Grant Program: youth resilience, media literacy and online critical thinking initiatives, raising societal awareness, civic engagement, bystander training, referral services, threat assessment and management teams, and recidivism reduction and reintegration.
We have aligned the evidence-informed takeaways to the DHS TVTP project tracks. Within each section, we provide an overview of the project track, identify potential outcomes, and provide recommendations based on existing systematic reviews.
This document encompasses:
- An introduction to each project track
- Outcomes that can indicate success within each project track
- Evidence-informed takeaways to indicate promising practices and common missteps
- Additional resources and communities of funders
- Definitions of important terms
As you consult this guide, it is important to note that preventing targeted violence is an emerging field that draws upon research and promising practices from analogous fields like suicide prevention and combatting human trafficking. Additional research and program evaluations will supplement the initial list of key takeaways over time.