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New Personality Profiling Technique to Identify Potential School Shooters Revealed in Israeli Study

A new personality profiling technique which automates the identification of potential school shooters by analyzing personality traits that appear in their writings has been developed by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

Last October, Homeland Security Today reported that an FBI study found active shooter incidents has been increasing.

The study revealed that incidents involving active shooters are becoming more frequent. The first seven years of the study show an average of 6.4 incidents annually, while the last seven years show 16.4 incidents annually. These incidents resulted in a total of 1,043 casualties (486 killed, 557 wounded—excluding the shooters).

“This trend reinforces the need to remain vigilant regarding prevention efforts and for law enforcement to aggressively train to better respond to—and help communities recover from—active shooter incidents,” the study stated.

The report also revealed the damage an active shooter can cause in just a matter of minutes. The duration of the incident could be ascertained in 64 of the 160 incidents. The report found that 44—or 69 percent—of the incidents ended in 5 minutes or less. 23 of the incidents ended in 2 minutes or less.

Homeland Security Today earlier reported in March 2014 that for whatever reason, the numbers of active shooters dramatically hastened after 2008. They grew from about 1 every other month between 2000 and 2008, to more than 1 a month between 2009 and 2012. And they’ve been ascending ever since, culminating with 15 active shooters last year who slaughtered 39 people and wounded 72 – some seriously.

Statistically, the most frequently attacked locations have been retail stores, office buildings, factories and warehouses, followed by schools – from kindergarten to institutions of higher learning.

Consequently, Homeland Security Today reported, on-site public safety and security is paramount for law enforcement and emergency medical personnel. To that end, swiftly establishing on-site incident management is essential to maintaining situational awareness, which is a crucial component of the response effort while an active shooter is on the loose.

Earlier this year, both the House and Senate passed the Gerardo Hernandez Airport Security Act of 2015 (HR 720) — bipartisan legislation to improve intergovernmental planning for and communication during security incidents at domestic airports by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) following the November 1, 2013 shooting of a TSA officer inside Los Angeles International Airport.

Bruce Patterson, technology director for the City of Ammon, Idaho responsible  for the city’s technology systems, and Kathleen Griggs, president of Databuoy LLC., discussed in Homeland Security Today how the Internet of Things can make schools and other facilities safer from active shooters.

Published in the journal, Frontiers in Forensic Psychiatry, Prof. Yair Neuman, a member of the BGU Homeland Security Institute, said in the Israeli study that, “School shooters present a challenge to both forensic psychiatry and law enforcement agencies. There is currently no clear consensus or clinical diagnosis that can be used for screening shooters. Finding a single shooter in a large population, as well as a lack of clinical diagnosis before an occurrence adds to the complexity.”

The researchers said the “study detailed the text-based computational personality-profiling tool, which uses “vector semantics” that involves constructing a number of vectors representing personality dimensions and disorders, which are analyzed automatically by computer to measure the similarity with texts written by the human subject.

“For example, an investigator may want to measure the extent in which narcissism is manifested in a text,” Neuman explaind. “First, we define a vector of words representing this personality such as ‘arrogant,’ ‘manipulative,’ ‘egocentric’ and ‘insensitive.’ The computer measures the distance between the vector of words comprising our target text and those representing narcissism in a high-dimensional semantic space. The closer the vectors appear, the higher the writer’s narcissistic ranking.

In their study, the BGU researchers selected writings by six shooters involved in a number of high-profile scenarios worldwide, including the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007. They analyzed and compared these with writings by 6,000 bloggers and tasked the computer to identify the shooters.

Although pinpointing a single person wasn’t the goal, the researchers said, the tool was still able to significantly reduce the pool of suspects to only three percent of the original sample, which included the writings of all six shooters. This shows that using intelligent technology can significantly reduce the effort needed to identify shooters or even solo terrorists.

The methodology is automatic, which also enables screening a massive number of texts in a short time, which could aid in detection.

“While ethical considerations are inevitable, we can definitely imagine a situation in which parents give the school permission to scan their teenagers’ social media pages under certain limitations. In this context, using our automatic screening procedure, a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist who is trained may automatically get red flag warnings for students whose texts express a high level of potential danger,” Neuman said.

“The proposed methodology does not pretend to solve the enormous difficulties in profiling and identifying school shooters, but modestly adds another tool to the tool kit of forensic psychiatry and law enforcement agencies,” Neuman said. “We believe our methodology can gain more validity with the ranking/prioritization process of suspects, similar to the automatic identification of sexual predators created to prioritize an investigation.”

The other researchers involved in the study include: James L. Knoll, a leading forensic psychiatrist at State University of New York; Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, New York; Dan Assaf, an independent researcher from Petah-Tikva, Israel and Yochai Cohen,chief executive officer of Gilasio Coding, Tel Aviv, Israel.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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