Pre-assaultive Behavioral & Physiological Cues

May 31, 2020

| Recognizing pre-assaultive indicators can stop attacks, avoid injuries, and prevent deaths.  Law enforcement professionals have learned through experiences and lessons from others a variety of behaviors which occur preceding an attack, based on a multitude of circumstances.

Pre-assaultive Indicators

To significantly enhance officer safety during any policing encounter, the effective recognition of criminal behavior and pre-assaultive cues is based on the peace officer’s abilities to read the scene (RTS) and react to my presence (RTMP). Officer safety skills are perishable and diminish over time without ongoing learning and practice. Peace officers must strive to correctly interpret a single act or a combination of behavioral and physiological cues that indicate the probability of a crime or an attack.  The following is a non-inclusive list of pre-assaultive indicators meant to be thought-provoking for on and off-duty law enforcement activities:

  • Behaviors: aggressive or threatening demeanor, argumentative, contempt, distrust, hate, hostility, non-compliance, non-congruence with communication, and spitting
  • Body language: bladed, defensive, fighting stance, clenched fists, clothing removal, defensive posture, and exaggerated moving or stretching limbs
  • Communications – nonverbal and verbal: gestures, hand signs, signals, and threatening statements with a lack of reverence for human life
  • Emotions: anger, despair, fear, sadness, and suicidal
  • Head/facial movements: animated gestures, blank stare, clenching the jaw, and scanning the area
  • Physical positioning: closing the distance, moving to cover, seeking a position of advantage, and triangulating
  • Physiological cues: breathing changes, elevated pulse, and sweating

Why should I read this article?

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in 2020 has caused a behavior shift throughout society. The wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) may create a greater risk to law enforcement when identifying pre-assaultive behaviors of an offender, while mitigating risks for everyone wearing PPE. The following article is designed to be thought-provoking for law enforcement officers, trainers, and supervisors in discussing experiences and recognizing pre-assault indicators.

Link to article:


Mindset and Behavior Study

May 24, 2020

| The FBI’s 2016 The Assailant Study (Mindsets and Behaviors) examined 50 incidents involving attacks against law enforcement where peace officers were killed. Originally, there were 53 incidents considered with 64-officers killed. Their conclusions identified common trends as well as two primary contributing factors:

“The common trends identified were (1) the expressed desire to kill law enforcement, and (2) the desire to remain free. The contributing factors identified were (1) the singular narrative that portrays the officer involved as guilty in traditional and social media and the subject as the victim, and (2) the recent criminal justice reform initiatives that reduce prosecutions and incarceration of criminals, specifically drug offenders, which has the effect of putting criminals back on the street with an attitude of ‘beating the system'”.

Why should I read this article?

The findings in this study are extremely relevant for law enforcement personnel.  Most important is the recognition of behavioral possibilities when a peace officer encounters or stops someone.  The officer’s ability to read the scene and understand how the person is reacting to police presence may provide a significant mental awareness and edge in securing a better position of advantage to prevent an attack.  The detection and reaction to these behavioral danger signs may be the difference between a safe resolution or a serious incident involving bodily injury or death.

Source: FBI The Assailant Study 2016