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How to Spot a Potential Threat

The deadly shootings in Arizona have fostered a renewed focus on security for Members and staff, and the Capitol’s law enforcement officials are refreshing Congress’ memory about how to diagnose potential danger. Both the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms and the Capitol Police have circulated an information packet to Congressional offices outlining how to identify plausible threats to Members. Authorities ask that any such threats be reported to the Capitol Police Threat Assessment Section. Here are some guidelines:

A good method to use to help you determine if someone or some correspondence is unusual, suspicious or inappropriate is to ask yourself:

• Is there a legitimate constituent service or issue here?
• Even if there is, has the individual become unreasonable or harassing?

Threats may not always be direct or specific, but could be veiled (“you’ll get yours”) or conditional (“you had better do … or I will …”).   

Inappropriate correspondence is any correspondence that includes:

• A special history shared with the Member of Congress.
• A special destiny shared with the Member of Congress.
• A direct communication (belief that direct communication exists between the Member of Congress and the writer).
• Religious and historical themes involving the Member of Congress (the writer admonishes the Member of Congress to change his or her lifestyle).
• Death, suicide or weapons.
• Extreme or obsessive admiration or affection for the Member of Congress.
• A debt owed the writer by the Member of Congress (not just money, but any type of debt).
• The Member of Congress is someone other than himself or herself (an imposter, historical figure, the writer’s relative, etc.).
• People who have been attacked in public (Abraham Lincoln, John Lennon, Anwar Sadat, John F. Kennedy et al.).
• People who have carried out attacks against public figures (Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr., Sirhan Sirhan, et al.).
• Mental illness (psychiatric care, anti-psychotic medication, etc.).
• Bodyguards, security, safety, danger or any questions about the Capitol Police.
• Anything that is disjointed in content, sinister or otherwise questionable and bizarre or unreasonable solicitations.

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