On December 26, 2000, Michael McDermott, facing financial troubles, allegedly took an AK-47 assault rifle, a shotgun, and a semiautomatic pistol to work. By noon, seven people were dead. The criminal trial in which McDermott will face charges in this case was set to begin early this month. But more important than what happens in this one case is what can be done to deter similar tragedies.
We've all read about such workplace violence. But this incident occurred in my small New England community of Wakefield, Massachusetts. It made me wonder whether better policies could prevent future incidents. As a law enforcement professional, I was aware of how the community policing model had been successfully applied to the problem of domestic violence. It occurred to me that those principles could probably be successfully applied to the problem of workplace violence.
The problems of workplace violence and domestic violence are related. For example, 10 to 15 years ago, the perception among police, businesses, and the public was that domestic violence was private. Thus, incidents of minor abuse went unreported. By the time the police got involved, it was often too late to prevent serious harm or death.
Over time, attitudes about domestic violence changed. Local police are now regularly provided domestic violence training. Ongoing partnerships with women's advocacy groups have raised awareness and incident reporting. Today, most police departments also have someone assigned to the issue of domestic violence who is charged with follow-up of court-issued abuse prevention orders.
The question is whether we can apply that same model to workplace violence. In considering the question we must first recognize that workplace violence is today where domestic violence was a decade or more ago. Despite the media attention given to deadly events such as the one in Wakefield, the more common but less dramatic lower-level incidents, such as threats and aggravated assaults, are still not viewed as an opportunity for early intervention. Companies tend to treat these situations internally--just as domestic violence was once treated as private. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, less than half (only 44.2 percent) of violent victimizations sustained at work are reported to the police.
Similarly, I find some police chiefs reluctant to take on the issue. When I suggest that there he an officer assigned to workplace violence, they say, "We have enough work to do."
This failure of businesses to report lower-level incidents and the reluctance of police to aggressively tackle the issue only empowers the perpetrators and diminishes the victims. Ultimately, these unreported smaller incidents are precursors to larger acts of violence. If you don't deal with the simple assault, you may eventually have to deal with homicide.
Assuming that one agrees with that premise--that businesses and local police need to work together to become more proactive in our handling of workplace violence--the next question is how to get from here to there.
In my community, we have successfully implemented the community policing model in two corporations and are working diligently to educate businesses and law enforcement agencies about the benefits of implementing corporate community policing programs with an eye toward reducing workplace violence.
My police department began one relationship with the local office of a global Fortune 500 company several years ago. The original impetus for the project was theft. The company was experiencing a high frequency of auto thefts from its parking lot, internal thefts of equipment such as laptop computers, and a high incidence of alarms. The company contacted the police for advice and assistance in reducing these incidents.
The business offered to provide office space within its building for a police officer to be present on site a couple of days each week, in addition to the increased patrols in the parking lot. …