‘Big Data’ Helps Predict Which Soldiers Most Likely to Commit Violent Crimes

Technology Could Help DoD Better Address Workplace Violence

By Annette M. Boyle

CAMBRIDGE, MA — As the DoD struggles with implementing a uniform workplace violence program that includes prevention and response protocols, a key tool has been lacking: How to predict who has the highest risk of committing violent acts — and a comprehensive way to intervene to reduce that risk.

Using that data and developing a comprehensive system to intervene could help the services respond to a recent report by the inspector general of the DoD which slammed the department for failing to provide a comprehensive approach to address workplace violence.

Fort Hood

Bystanders crouch for cover as shots rang out from the Soldier Readiness Processing Center on Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 5, 2009. A lone gunman killed 13 people and wounded 30 more in the incident. U.S. Army photo by Jeramie Sivley

“Military personnel, DoD civilian employees and contractors were not equally prepared to prevent and respond to an act of workplace violence, which could jeopardize their safety during a workplace violence threat or incident,” according to the IG.

In the workplace or otherwise, 5,771 soldiers committed murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery or other violent felonies during a five-year period ending in 2009, according to a study published recently in Psychological Medicine. The more than 15,000 cases of domestic violence as well as 718 familial and 6,198 non-familial sex crimes were not included in the study because researchers suggested that those offenders have risk patterns that are distinct from other types of criminals. 1

For years, the military services have relied on psychological interviews and reporting to identify individuals at high risk of violent behavior, but turning toward big data and the DoD’s existing administrative database might be even more reliable, according to the recent report.

Part of the problem arises from the implementation of different sets of recommendations by different organizations. The DoD followed the Secretary of Defense’s August 2010 final direction, written in response to a 2009 attack at Fort Hood, TX, which left 13 dead. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency adopted the Fort Hood review board’s recommendations. Neither of them, according to the IG, ensured the recommendations were properly implemented.

To date, only the Marine Corps has developed and implemented a servicewide violence prevention and response program. The other services have updated or developed guidance that addresses only certain aspects of workplace violence.

The IG report referenced DoD Directive 5205.16, which called for DoD policies to effectively address insider threats, including workplace violence, and to use information derived from previous violent acts to identify, minimize and counter those threats. The IG noted that the “Directive does not specify how this will be accomplished, especially when a comprehensive DoD-wide policy or program on workplace violence does not exist.”

The Psychological Medicine study provides crucial insight into the problem of insider threats. Conducted in collaboration with the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS), the study found that 5% of the soldiers identified by a model as having the highest predicted risk accounted for 36.2% of all the major physical violent crimes committed by men and 33.1% of those committed by women from 2004 to 2009. When applied to the 2011 to 2013 cohort, the top 5% identified by the as highest risk accounted for more than 50% of all major physical violent crimes. >>Next Page

1 2

Share Your Thoughts