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Fixated Threat Assessment Centers: preventing harm and facilitating care in public figure threat cases and those thought to be at risk of lone-actor grievance-fueled violence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 April 2020

Justin Barry-Walsh*
Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTACNZ) Capital and Coast District Health Board, Wellington, New Zealand
David V. James
Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTACNZ) Capital and Coast District Health Board, Wellington, New Zealand
Paul E. Mullen
Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTACNZ) Capital and Coast District Health Board, Wellington, New Zealand
*Address correspondence to: Justin Barry-Walsh; Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTACNZ) Capital and Coast District Health Board, Wellington, New Zealand. (Email:


The rediscovery of the importance of mental illness in the risk assessment and management of those who threaten, approach, and harm public figures has led to a new way of dealing with those that threaten public figures. This approach emphasises the role of “fixation” which may be defined as an intense preoccupation pursued to an abnormally intense degree. It integrates a threat assessment paradigm with the literature on stalking. The need for such an approach was highlighted in research on the prevalence of harassment of public figures. Psychiatry has a key role in this approach which sees mental health clinicians and Police work together in Fixated Threat Assessment Centres (FTACs). An FTAC functions by assessing the level of concern and sharing information to facilitate interventions that are often mental health based. The purpose is not the hopeless task of identifying those who will go on to perpetrate serious violence, rather to intervene in the group they emerge from, to prevent harm. As well as decreasing risk to the persons fixated upon, this approach improves care to the mentally disordered people who harass and threaten them and, in doing so, decreases the likelihood of their criminalization while enhancing their quality of life. As expertise in the area has grown, policing and security agencies in several countries have expanded the FTAC model to cover individuals thought at risk of lone-actor grievance-fueled violence, a term that captures both different forms of mass killing and lone actor terrorism.

© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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