An Interview with Robert Martin

You may not recognize Robert Martin’s moniker as a household name, but once you finish reading his biography and this interview, you’ll be left wondering how that could be possible. Robert (Bob) Martin has contributed enormously to the study and advancement of threat assessment practices, and he is someone you definitely need to know.

I first met Bob at the Gavin de Becker and Associates Advanced Threat Assessment and Management Academy in 2012. Bob was running the show, demonstrating the MOSAIC threat assessment system, and lecturing on various topics throughout the week. He always made himself available to answer questions and I quickly realized that Bob has a special ability to mentor others.

Since that time, our paths have fortuitously crossed several times, and it recently dawned on me that you really need to know more about this great guy. Bob agreed to sit down with me for an interview (along with an extended chat where I got to tap into his inexhaustible knowledge on all sorts of topics), and this is the result. My many thanks to Bob for his time, knowledge and extensive contribution to the fields of law enforcement and threat assessment.

How would you describe the focus of your career before your recent “retirement?”

For 20 years, I served as the Vice President at Gavin de Becker & Associates, and for the two years since then I assumed the role of Senior Advisor. I was responsible for administration of the business, internal and external training, development of threat assessment methods, the MOSAIC system, and the Advanced Threat Assessment & Management Academy. I essentially served as the public face of the company, often giving presentations and keynote addresses.

Prior to joining Gavin de Becker & Associates, I spent 28 years with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). I served as Commanding Officer of Detective Headquarters Division and of the LAPD’s Personnel Division. I also pioneered a new approach to specialized gang-related homicide investigations that resulted in a 98% clearance rate of these homicides. I founded LAPD’s first Threat Management Unit, and initiated the first police use of MOSAIC to assess threats.

Can you tell us a little more about MOSAIC?

MOSAIC is a threat assessment method, part of which is computer-assisted. MOSAIC is not a computer program. MOSAIC is an assessment strategy that helps ensure fairness, consistency, and thoroughness in high-stakes matters. It is a tool that helps guide assessments of risk.

MOSAIC is a way of breaking down a situation to its elements, then organizing and identifying the most important factors. Once a case is thus coded, it can be instantly compared to others where the outcome is known. The case can also be weighed against the opinions of experts in the relevant field. MOSAIC suggests to an evaluator those questions determined most valuable to the overall assessment.

At what point in your career did you begin to make threat assessment such a high priority?

Working in law enforcement brought me close to some ugly situations. I had grown up in a “Happy Days” world in a small town in New Jersey. As a young adult, I was out of the country for six years, and returned to something completely different. I had missed the transition away from the culture of my youth. In my work as a young LAPD officer, I was part of a team that investigated the particularly gruesome murder of a woman. It was 1966, and I realized that the system had failed the woman that night. Two hours earlier, a pair of officers had responded to a call to mediate a “domestic disturbance.” The term “domestic violence” had yet to be coined, and in those days, if a victim did not wish to make a report, the incident was logged as “mutual combat.” This case occurred 50 years ago and the image of that victim is still with me. You see, I was one of the officers who responded to the call earlier that night, and we left without doing anything.

That’s where my interest in threat assessment started. I believed that there had to be some way of assisting victims of violence and inappropriate pursuit before things got to the point of grave harm or murder. But, I didn’t know how to do it and I knew that the department was not geared up for this task.

Then, in 1989, actress Rebecca Schaeffer was killed by a disturbed fan, and the term “stalking” was catapulted into the American consciousness. Many in the entertainment industry were frustrated and angry. Celebrities had endured inappropriate fan behavior for years, and had no idea how to manage it. Seven years earlier, actress Theresa Saldana survived a brutal attack by an obsessive fan, only because of passerby intervention.

In response to Rebecca Schaeffer’s murder, the Conference of Personal Managers hosted a panel presentation to address their clients’ safety issues. Panel members included representatives from the LAPD, the FBI, and Mr. Gavin de Becker. While the FBI and LAPD had limited knowledge about how to deal with stalkers, Mr. de Becker talked for 90 minutes about strategies his office used to keep clients safe. It became clear that effective violence prevention strategies existed, but I couldn’t get a clear vision of how to implement them within the LAPD. Then, an audience member spoke up, saying, “I understand that you don’t have the internal process or legal support to deal with this issue, so why don’t you change that?” Before I could answer, Gavin de Becker volunteered to help by providing training and access to his MOSAIC system for assessing threats to public figures. That was the beginning of the Threat Management Unit (TMU) of the LAPD. We later collaborated with the Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU) of the department, formed with the sole purpose of helping mentally ill persons who came to the attention of police. The TMU was open for business in October 1989.

Over the next two years, the TMU gained a substantial amount of expertise and received nearly non-stop requests for insight and guidance. In response, the TMU hosted the first Threat Management Conference in March 1991. The following year, attendance at the conference doubled. Two years later, the TMU partnered with the newly formed Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP) and the two organizations have hosted the conference ever since.

How did you end up working at Gavin de Becker and Associates?

I had actually met Gavin shortly before the meeting with the Conference of Personal Managers. A detective who had discovered Gavin’s work urged me to meet with him. What was supposed to be a 20-minute meeting ended up lasting for 3 hours. The things Gavin said made so much sense to me. We had another meeting after that, followed by the panel meeting. I worked with Gavin on putting together the TMU, and we built a relationship over time. Gavin asked me to join the firm as Vice President in 1994.

What have you found to be the greatest challenges in your work with threat assessment?

The single biggest challenge is denial – people not seeing what we’re talking about. There is a sense of “not my workplace, not my school” and that’s not productive. We need to get past that in order to make a change. Any 3rd grade teacher can predict which of his/her students will end up in the criminal justice system later. Behaviors of concern warrant intervention. Rather than calling them “warning signs,” I prefer the term “behaviors consistent with escalation.”

Another challenge is a sense of unfairness. When we work with victims, they often need to make changes in their lives in order to stay safe. We frequently hear, “it’s not fair that I have to be the one to change.” It’s difficult, yes, but that is what typically needs to happen in order to prevent a situation that will likely be much worse than what they’re already experiencing.

A challenge that affects schools is that a lot of money being allocated for school safety is being put toward what to do after the shots are fired. We need to work more on prevention.

A colleague once used a metaphor that illustrates this very well. He said that in martial arts,”we can teach 52 moves to get out of a headlock. Or, we can teach people not to get into a headlock in the first place.”

Finally, it’s been challenging at times when individual egos are concerned more with who gets credit and who takes blame, than with moving forward to make change.

“That’s what I’ve been doing for 27 years – making changes.”

You recently mentioned that you are currently providing training for students at the college level. Can you tell me a little more about this work?

I do a lot of pro bono work for groups that can’t afford to have someone come in for this type of lecture, such as college classes and clubs, domestic violence groups, and women’s groups. I talk about the idea of the socialization process that teaches women they have to be nice to everyone. I explain about saying “no” and meaning it. There is this idea of letting people down easily and not hurting feelings. If you mean maybe, say “maybe.” Say, “I don’t want to do that right now, but you can check back with me in two weeks.” If you mean no, say “no.” If you allow yourself to be swayed after saying “no” you’ve just taught the other person that he/she can manipulate you. If a guy doesn’t listen to the first “no,” let him know that when you say “no” you mean it. His reaction is telling. If he continues to ask or bring up the subject, you can say, “the fact that you’re still talking about this after I’ve said “no” makes me wonder if you are trying to manipulate me.” This type of conversation can make a big difference in relationships, and it’s better to find out on a first date, about the kind of person you are with.

What advice do you have for school district staff members who want to set up threat assessment practices in their schools?

The mindset shift has to be from what we can do to someone (a suspect/person of concern), to what we can do to help someone of concern. We need to help the individual when we see behaviors that indicate struggling, before he or she breaks a rule that warrants a negative sanction. These kids self-select and come to our attention for a reason. What are we going to do about it? What do we need to do to help this child? We need to collaborate with other agencies that can help implement programming to provide this help.

Some things schools can consider implementing:

ACE scores – Adverse Childhood Experiences – what we’re now seeing is a direct correlation between higher ACE scores and domestic violence and confrontations with police officers. Let’s look at how we can use this information to intervene early and change outcomes.

We can predict to what degree a child has hope. This can be measured, and if there is no hope, there is suffering. Interventions such as Camp Hope America can significantly improve the level of hope for children who have experienced trauma related to family violence.

There is a model for comprehensive services for families experiencing violence. In the mid-1990’s, the then elected San Diego District Attorney, Casey Gwinn, found that in a worst case scenario a victim of domestic violence would have to go to 35 different locations to obtain the services they needed to leave their situations and move forward. This was a huge obstacle to success. In response, he created The Family Justice Center to bring multiple agencies together in one place. We could replicate this model to help students and others who need the assistance of a multidisciplinary framework of services.

In one North Carolina jurisdiction, police officers notify schools of domestic abuse calls that involve their students, so school staff can provide some extra attention and connection with students during the days following police intervention at their homes.

We need to look at bullying behaviors that in isolation, might not appear to be a big deal. These behaviors should be dealt with and the person doing them should receive our attention to determine what’s behind the behavior. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of pointing out that a behavior is inappropriate, and the student will stop. The students who repeat mildly inappropriate behavior after being told it’s inappropriate need our attention to find out what’s going on, before the behavior escalates.

Is there anything else you’d like my readers to know?

The biggest message I’d like to convey is to consider how we will prevent students/teachers from getting to point where violence is the last resort. We want to intervene before someone perceives that they have a lack of alternatives. The more alternatives people have to acting out violently, the less likely they will be to do so. If nothing else, let’s find some more alternatives for them to consider. Let’s give a person some degree of hope. As Gavin de Becker says, “the universal warning sign of violence is suffering.” Let’s all ask ourselves what we can do to ease the suffering of those around us.

Biography – Robert J. Martin

Robert Martin is one of the nation’s leading experts on violence prevention and threat assessment. During his 28-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department, he served as Commanding Officer of Detective Headquarters Division and of the LAPD’s Personnel Division where he managed background investigations and evaluations for 11,000 LAPD officers. He founded the first Threat Management Unit and was the recipient of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Service Excellence Award, Personnel Management Award, Olympic Planning Ribbon, and the Papal Visit Planning Ribbon.

While with the LAPD, Martin pioneered the first police use of MOSAIC, an innovative approach for evaluating threats to public figures. He was the lead developer of a similar method co-developed with the United States Marshals Service for evaluating threats to Federal Judges, followed by the development of the MOSAIC Method for Assessing Student Threats (MAST).

After pioneering a new approach to specialized gang-related homicide investigations and leading a team that boasted LA’s highest clearance rate for homicide cases (98%), Martin received the Meritorious Unit Citation and a special citation from the District Attorney for “Investigative Excellence.” Upon his retirement from the LAPD, he received citations from President Bill Clinton, the Governor of California, the Los Angeles City Council, and the Police Commission. In 1987, by a resolution of the City Council, he received a special commendation for his role in the protection of President Ronald Regan.

Martin also served as Commanding Officer of the Los Angeles Emergency Control Center during the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the 1992 Rodney King riots, when a State of Emergency was declared.

He is qualified as an expert by the Federal Court on issues related to threat assessment and is the senior founding member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP). He is a Senior Advisor for Gavin de Becker & Associates where he served 20 years as Vice President.

Serving as a consultant to the Chicago Behavioral Assistance Team Project Planning Committee, Martin assisted in the development of a response team to deal with mentally ill offenders. He testified before the President’s Commission on Mental Retardation and authored a chapter on the police response to the mentally ill in The Criminal Justice System and Mental Retardation. Recently, he authored a chapter on stalking in Trauma Psychology: Issues in Violence, Disaster, Health, and Illness.

Martin served on the editorial staff and as assistant to the Executive Director for the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals: Report on Police and as a ghostwriter for the Executive Director for their Police Chief Executive Report. In addition, he was a contributing author for the Model Use of Force Policy and Code of Professional Conduct of the California Peace Officers’ Association.

He was a regular lecturer on Criminal Justice matters at the California State University Long Beach, and currently guest lectures at the University of Southern California on issues related to domestic violence. He is also a member of the prestigious National Speakers Association.

Martin has been interviewed on many national news programs regarding hazards to public figures, stalking, domestic violence, and student violence. He has been quoted in the Los Angeles Times, the Herald Examiner, USA Today, the Hollywood Reporter, and the New Yorker Magazine.

He holds multiple California Peace Officers Standards and Training certificates (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced, Supervisory, and Management) and is a graduate of their Career Ethics/Integrity Facilitators Training Course.

Martin is currently the Vice Chairman of the Board of the Alliance for Hope International, the Chairman of the Board of the Operation for Hope Foundation (which raises awareness of issues related to family violence), the Chairman of the Board of IMPACT Personal Safety, a Board member of Safe and Sound Schools: A Sandy Hook Initiative, and a Board member for For The Child which provides services to abused and neglected children. He is on the Advisory Board of the Communities Against Violence Network (CAVNET), one of the largest internet-based repositories for research related to the prediction and management of violence. He is a Senior Advisor for the Violence Prevention Agency.

An Interview with: Michele Gay

Michele GayMichele Gay is the Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools. Together, she and Alissa Parker founded Safe and Sound Schools to educate parents and school staff members about the most effective safety practices, in a format that is both easily understandable and immediately usable. Michele and Alissa work jointly with experts in the field of school safety to continually curate information and update the free resources and tools on the organization’s website at They speak to school safety stakeholders around the country about their experiences, and the simple changes schools can implement to create safer environments. Both Michele and Alissa are dedicated to advocating for greater school safety in honor of their beloved daughters, Josephine and Emilie, who died tragically in the 2012 attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Michele sat down to talk with me about the amazing work and mission of Safe and Sound Schools.

Michele, how would you describe your role within Safe and Sounds Schools?

My official title is Executive Director. With a brand new nonprofit, that means I wear all sorts of hats. I work with our contributors, select resources for the website and make them usable in a practical way, speak with communities across the country and provide training for school leaders and stakeholders on our Straight-A Safety model and the ways in which they can make their schools safer.

What were the initial goals for Safe and Sound Schools?

Our initial goals were to synthesize the best practices in school safety and boil them down for the everyday user. They need to be formatted so any stakeholder – parent, teacher, custodian, bus driver – can pick them up and understand them. They must to be easy to use because all of these people are already wearing many hats. I find that I’m using my experience as a pre-school and elementary school teacher to help me simplify all of these concepts so others can easily learn them.

What kind of movement toward those goals have you seen since the organization was created?

We have grown, and will continue to grow. We started out sharing our experiences as keynote speakers and recently began providing on-site training for communities on how they can implement safety improvement practices in their schools. We have some wonderful contributors who are school safety and subject-matter experts in their fields. When we originally reached out to them we weren’t sure whether they would want to be involved. Their response was overwhelming. We have learned so much from our team of advisors and contributors that we can pass on to others. We learn from each community we visit and it charges us up to see that there are people out there who get it, and are working really hard to bring practical solutions to the forefront.

How many people are involved with the organization, both staff and volunteers?

There are 8 volunteer board members and 4 part-time staff members, plus myself. We have a team of 15 advisors and professional contributors that includes firefighters, psychologists, school resource officers, police, education specialists, and school safety experts.

Do you have an estimate of the number of schools that have made changes as a result of your organization’s mission and outreach?

I would love to have that information! Our new website is going to have the capability to track the number of people who download our materials, so that will help. But, of course, it’s not easy to learn how they’ve been used or shared. I have done 25 speaking engagements each year and will continue to do those, along with the new training. Alissa also serves as a keynote speaker, addressing state and local communities. And, we are now launching a speakers’ bureau of subject matter experts to help us keep up. We are very excited about this.

What have you found to be the greatest challenges in your work with school safety?

So many other issues and conversations happen in our society and schools, that safety sometimes gets overshadowed. We are working hard to educate people about the ways in which school safety is do-able. The growth in this area is slow and steady. We are still working to educate about what school safety actually is. It’s more than physical security and bars on windows. Many things can be done by anyone to improve school safety. This is also an emotional subject, and once we go to an emotional place, we can lose our ability to think practically. Our response is to provide practical tools that are easy to implement.

 Is there anything else you would like my readers to know?

I would like your readers to know that we are a work in progress and we will continue to grow. We provide safety resources, we visit communities to share what we know, and we learn from others. This helps to connect us, and connecting us all makes us just that much more powerful. Everything on the website is free and will stay that way. You can help educate other parents and educators by sharing our resources, liking our Facebook page, following us on Twitter and signing up for newsletters and notifications on our website.

I want to express my sincere appreciation for Michele’s time and dedication. Most importantly, I want to thank both Michele and Alissa for their work as tireless school safety educators and advocates. For a closer look at the compelling forces behind Safe and Sound Schools and its mission to help everyday folks implement the simple safety practices advocated by experts, please watch this brief video interview with Michele and Bob Gay and Alissa and Robbie Parker. Be sure to check out all of the amazing resources at

An Interview with: Mark Follman

An Interview with: Mark Follman

Mark Follman is the national affairs editor at Mother Jones. Since 2012, his in-depth investigations into mass shootings, child gun deaths, and the financial costs of gun violence have been honored with multiple journalism awards. Mark is a former editor of Salon and a cofounder of the MediaBugs project. His reporting and commentary have also appeared in the New York Times, The AtlanticRolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and on Fox News, MSNBC, and NPR‘s All Things Considered.

In July 2012, Mark and his team at Mother Jones created the first open-source database on mass shootings in America. Mark’s team also learned that a large number of mass shooters have modeled their attacks on previous mass shooting incidents. His recent article, Inside the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooter, was the cover story for the November-December issue of Mother Jones.

Mark agreed to talk with me about the important issue of gun violence in the U.S., along with his in-depth investigation into the practice of Violence Threat Assessment and how it seeks to prevent mass shooting.

I understand that you are the national affairs editor at Mother Jones. How would you describe your role within the organization?

As the national affairs editor at Mother Jones, I help run our coverage of national news events. I also oversee other investigative projects that are similar to the investigation into mass shootings. For the past 3 years, I have spent the majority of my time researching and writing about various aspects of gun violence.

What sparked your interest in writing about child gun deaths, the cost of gun violence and mass shootings?

I began focusing more intensively on the topic of gun violence after the July 2012 mass shooting at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora Colorado. I wanted to know how frequently this type of attack occurred and found that no database existed. I wanted to know more about who was carrying out these crimes, how and why. So, I set out to answer those questions, beginning with building the database.

What are the most significant and/or surprising things you’ve learned about mass shootings and gun violence?

We soon learned that public gun massacres, while still relatively rare, have increased in frequency in recent years. There is some debate around that, and it is focused primarily on the definition of “mass shooting.” We focused on gathering data on seemingly indiscriminate mass shootings that took place in public, in which four or more victims were killed. This is consistent with the FBI’s long-standing definition of mass murder, though there is really no official definition for “mass shooting.” We did not include family/domestic murders in private homes or gang-related attacks—those are distinct crimes with different policy implications.

Our conclusion that the incidence of mass shooting has increased over the past several years, has since been corroborated by the FBI Active Shooter study and an independent study conducted by Harvard researchers using the data we collected.

It was also striking to learn that the vast majority of mass shooting perpetrators, more than 80 percent of them, had used legally obtained firearms.

Another important finding was that many mass shooters have serious mental health problems, and some show signs of that, prior to attacking. But there is a crucial point to keep in mind here: This is not the same as a causal relationship between mental illness and violence. A large body of research shows that most people with mental illness are not violent. What we found was that many mass shooters had mental health issues, along with many other factors that contributed to their actions. But mental illness by itself is in no way predictive of who might commit a mass shooting.

Have your goals changed at all since you began writing about gun violence? If so, how?

There is still a lot that we don’t know about our nation’s problems with gun violence, which are significant, to say the least. Research into gun violence has been suppressed for nearly two decades, primarily due to politics surrounding the issue. This lack of awareness and understanding exists even in law enforcement, education, and mental health circles. This keeps me motivated to continue to shed more light on problems of gun violence through data-driven reporting.

Is there anything else you would like my readers to know?

It’s difficult to prove that a practice is effective at preventing violence, if that violence doesn’t in fact occur. How do you measure that? You’re proving a negative. But from what I’ve learned about threat assessment, while it is not a solution on its own—clearly the availability of guns and access to mental health care have to be part of comprehensively addressing mass shootings—it seems to be a promising strategy in at least some cases. Having attended the ATAP (Association of Threat Assessment Professionals) conference this past August, I learned a lot from listening to experts among the 700+ member attendees. I think it’s interesting that threat assessment teams are now required in three states for public higher education institutions (Virginia, Connecticut and Illinois), and in one state (Virginia) for Pre K-12 schools, with the possibility of another state on the horizon (Oregon). That suggests it’s increasingly being seen as a useful tool for combatting this problem.

I have been surprised at how powerful the response to the article has been, from the general-public, media, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and educators. I think there is a lot of desire to have the sense that something can be done to help stop mass shootings, that it’s not just a hopeless problem that will go on and on. Some of my colleagues in the media have responded quite positively to the idea that they might want to rethink their role in the copycat effect. Knowing what we know now from forensic investigations of mass shooters and how the media can affect them, I think this is a valuable conversation for us to be having.

I want to express my sincere thanks to Mark for taking the time to share what he’s learned with my readers. If you have not yet read Mark’s enlightening article, Inside the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooter, I highly recommend doing so. Mark can be contacted at [email protected].