Workplace and School Violence Prevention

By Albrecht, Steve | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Workplace and School Violence Prevention


Albrecht, Steve, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


An angry ex-employee bursts into the lobby of his former employer and yells at the frightened receptionist, "You tell the CEO he's a dead man. I'll make sure he never sees his family again!" A woman gets a phone call at work from her estranged husband, who tells her he knows about her new boyfriend, also employed at the same company. "I will kill you both, and I'll shoot any cop who tries to stop me!" An information technology (IT) director reviews several hundred threatening e-mails from an anonymous source who has not honored a cease-and-desist order from the organization's attorney. Speaking to his friend, a 15-year-old high school sophomore says that he hired a locksmith to make a spare key to his father's gun cabinet, just in case he needs to "take care of some people" who have bullied him.

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At a minimum, each of these incidents can bring intense fear to a workplace or school campus. Worse, such events can lead to violence resulting in the injuries or deaths of innocents. Further, perpetrators often kill themselves or die as a result of suicide by cop. (1)

In response to horrific situations, including shootings and mass murders in workplaces, schools, malls, churches, and government agencies, progressive and forward-thinking public-and private-sector organizations form threat assessment teams (TATs) to help prevent or man-age incidents. (2) Law enforcement agencies constitute an important part. They can assess the nature and reality of the threats, provide valuable information to the group, and offer a realistic view as to potential solutions. Police serve both an advisory and action-oriented role; they can help with the assessment, start or continue an investigation, or take other appropriate measures, such as making arrests or initiating mental health holds.

NATURE OF THREATS

TATs aim to assess dangerousness, not to predict violence; only the perpetrators ultimately know their intentions. Further, the teams do not rely on profiles when managing cases. They focus on analyzing the con-textual behaviors of possible perpetrators and any potential victims they intersect with. Tied to TATs' concentration on behavior, threat assessment encompasses just a window in time. The team's depiction of a subject one day could change completely upon receipt of new information the following day. For instance, an angry or de-pressed man could seem stable until his wife suddenly leaves him. As a result, the TAT may dramatically alter its assessment of his potential for violence.

More than focusing on warning signs or threats alone, assessment involves a unique overall view of changing, relevant, and related behaviors of concern. Experts say that the identification and resolution of threat cases involves early detection of "attack related" behaviors. (3) Perpetrators of targeted acts of violence engage in covert and overt behaviors preceding and accompanying their attacks. They consider, plan, prepare, share, and, in some cases, move on to action.

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The threat assessment approach does not rely on direct communication of a threat as the primary threshold for an appraisal of risk, protective intervention, or corrective action. Rather, a greater chance exists that third parties (e.g., coworkers, friends, other students, and family), not actual targets, hear threats. (4)

TEAM CONCEPT

Like-minded, concerned professionals gathered together in person or via a teleconference can use the power of synergy to find dynamic solutions in a short time. Using TATs changes the dynamics in employee- or student-related threat situations from What do I do? to What do we do? These meetings allow the participants to share ideas, experiences, fears, and concerns in a problem-solving environment. TATs serve five primary functions.

1) Information gathering: What does the team know about the threatener and the targets? …

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