Threats of harm should always be taken seriously, but in many cases the person making the threat is only trying to exploit their victim or elicit a reaction for a perceived wrongdoing. Gavin de Becker, who wrote The Gift of Fear, teaches the acronym JACA to help people evaluate how serious the threat might be. Appraising the offender’s perception in these four areas will help us evaluate how likely they are to use violence against us:

Justification. What is the person’s perceived justification for carrying out their threats? A person who gets fired or arrested might feel justified in retaliation. People with anger management problems might blame their behavior on the actions of another.  Someone could reach a level of desperation that they rationalize the use of violence to better their situation. It’s not about whether they are thinking clearly—but whether or not they feel as though violence is an appropriate response to the situation. 

Alternatives. Do they have choices in how they handle this situation? Can they select another victim, or is this focused on you? Do they feel the need to kill you, inflict pain or suffering, or is it enough to only cause fear? Can they extort you? If the person feels as though you cost them their job, for example, how easily can they find employment elsewhere? Are they are just upset, or do they feel like their life is ruined, and you are the one to blame? 

Consequences. What happens if they carry out their threat? Is the risk worth the reward? Are they going to jail or prison anyway? Do they feel like they can otherwise recover from this incident? 

Ability. Are they capable of carrying out their threat? This involves not only proximity (access) and the physical means to carry out their attack, but also an evaluation of their capacity for violence. Do they have a history of violence or a volatile temper? Have they ever been arrested? How do they normally handle conflict?

JACA is just a tool, we can’t give you a mathematical formula to predict the future—but it should be enough to generate some thoughts about how likely an attack is to occur. You can apply the JACA analysis for someone who has made verbal or written threats to attack a person or place, or even if you have a funny feeling about that guy at work or school. You might even be able to hastily consider these elements in the midst of a heated confrontation out in public, or during some criminal act (like a robbery). Look for red flags and respond accordingly. Remember to use JACA to evaluate the other person’s perception—not just your own!

Mike Doyle

Mike Doyle


Mike is a full-time police officer and tactical medic. He currently works as a K9 handler, SWAT team member, and Police Trainer. Mike started Tactical Tangents as part of his fundamental purpose to save lives. His goal is to enhance the survival of police officers and concerned citizens by helping them become better, smarter, faster, and more efficient. His opinions are for informational purposes only and do not reflect those of his employer or any other government agency.



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