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.