18 Workplace Violence Incidents Since September 11th: For the Workplace Killer, It Is Business as Usual
By Larry J. Chavez
Sacramento, California, June 3, 2001 - An on-going study of internal workplace violence revealed that fatal attacks in the workplace have continued at a steady rate despite the renewed sense of security awareness brought about by the response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
The study focused on violence perpetrated by employees, former employees, clients and other categories of invitees. Since September 11th, 18 separate workplace violence incidents have occurred across the nation resulting in the deaths of 34 people and the wounding of 23.
The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center has left American workers with a feeling of insecurity, the likes of which have never been experienced in our nation’s history. Outside forces, with evil intent, struck a trusting and vulnerable nation with catastrophic consequences. Feelings of personal security in the workplace plummeted. Organizational problem solvers responded by providing enhanced physical security to insulate workers from the outside threat. In many cases, their efforts included upgraded building access and mailroom procedures designed to restrict the flow of people and parcels into the workplace. While these efforts to harden the workplace began to address the terrorist threat, they did nothing to deter the internal workplace killer, a threat that is every bit as horrifying as any terrorist incident.
While it is a relatively simple matter to enhance physical security, it is far more complex to attempt to understand what triggers violence in specific individuals, particularly those with whom we share our workplace. The workplace killer after all is someone we have hired, trained, supervised and entrusted with a key to our workplace. He is, after all, one of us.
The 280-case sampling of internal workplace violence incidents revealed certain characteristics about this form of violence. The perpetrators, not surprising to most, were men 94.3% of the time while women numbered only 5.7%. The overwhelming number of perpetrators were between the ages of 35-45, most having significant tenure on the job. In some cases the parties knew each other for years. The case studies pointed out that specific victims were singled out targeted. There were numerous accounts of killers walking past a number of other coworkers only to single out specific people as victims. This negates the myth that this is random violence.
For all of the workplace killers, their acts constituted a one-way path to destruction. Their singular intention was to take out their vengeance on selected individuals. After committing their acts, workplace killers committed suicide 33.9% of the time, while 7.1% died in confrontations with law enforcement, and many of those appeared to be suicide-by-cops scenarios.
15.4% of the killers surrendered peacefully immediately after perpetrating their act, with 40% being captured within a relatively short time. Intervention, disrupting the plans of potential workplace killers, took place in only 3.6% of the cases. Not a single perpetrator in the cases studied remains at large.
The study also provided information as to the relationship of the perpetrator to the workplace. Current employees constituted the bulk of the perpetrators at 43.6% while former employees made up 22.5 %. Domestic violence, spilling over into the workplace, took third place at 21.4% while those with client-type relationships numbered 12.5%. The significance of this information is that each category of relationship between the perpetrator and the workplace is a separate and distinct type of threat, calling for specialized training and an action plan to ensure that the threat is properly addressed.
The study revealed some even more disturbing information about the nature of workplace violence. It was found that a number of fatal incidents occurred at places other than the workplace. While all of these incidents had their beginnings in the workplace, they were actually carried out at the homes of the intended victims and included uninvolved family members of the targeted victims. Vengeful and determined perpetrators have likely taken this chilling course of action to avoid the increased level of physical security at various work sites and to increase the horrific impact of their offense.
Internal workplace violence has been a fact of life long before the September 11 attacks and will continue long after. To combat this problem, policy makers must give attention to this issue. They need to broaden their focus so as to encompass the entire work environment, not just the perpetrator who is only a single part of the problem. While the killer is ultimately to blame for his act, employers must ask themselves whether or not they have contributed to the outcome in any way.
Workplace violence has continued at its usual pace because some employers have simply failed to adequately address the problem. This has not been purposeful but due rather to a lack of awareness of the problem coupled with everyday workplace and industry pressures. Clearly, workplace violence prevention has not been given the priority it rates. This has resulted in employers being oblivious to some of the most obvious organizational factors that have contributed to scenes of unimaginable horror across the country.
Some of those factors include:
Historically, training on the subject has been the domain of human resource or risk managers within organizations. In many instances, the training appeared to have stopped at these staff positions. As a matter of practicality, training must be introduced where it can do the most good.
First-line supervisors are the eyes and ears of most organization. Through their span of control, they see every single person in the organization every day. For that reason, they are in the best position to spot problems at the earliest stages. Once trained, they are able to take action to deal appropriately with the situation. Training for first-line supervisors is inadequate in most organizations. At a minimum, organizations should provide training and establish a competency model on violence prevention for first-line supervisors.
While we must be mindful of the fact that no amount of training can totally eliminate internal workplace violence, it can certainly be minimized. In many of the case studies having fatal outcomes, there were clear warning signs. Behaviors had been observed by supervisors and managers who had absolutely no idea of how to deal with them. In the aftermath of far too many cases, managers, supervisors and even line level employees were heard to be making such comments as "We saw it coming."
In the final analysis, organizations are graded on their violence-prevention efforts. Unfortunately, this usually takes the form of a lawsuit for wrongful death or negligence brought against the organization by the grieving family of an employee who was killed in a violent incident. The grading is extremely harsh and carries with it even hasher monetary penalties. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent just settling lawsuits and millions are paid out when there is a finding of negligence against the employer. Organizations who have been diligent in their training are able to mitigate some of the damages by demonstrating to the court that they acted with due diligence and in good faith by providing employees with the awareness necessary to recognize and deal with the threat against them. Violence prevention through education is a sound practice because it seeks to protect people. Secondary to that should be the concern for reducing civil liability. If an employer is ever concerned that violence prevention training is an unnecessary expense, just consider the cost of not having it at all.
A positive spin-off of any organization’s violence prevention efforts is that employers convey to their employees that their safety and well-being is a top concern. That’s a win-win situation. Let us not get the false sense of security that because we are beginning to address the international terrorist threat that we have also addressed the terrorism from within.
The study was conducted by Larry J. Chavez, B.A., M.P.A., researcher and national authority on workplace violence prevention. He is a 30-year law enforcement veteran and former senior hostage negotiator for a law enforcement agency. A graduate of the FBI Hostage Negotiations School at Quantico, Virginia, he has authored several articles on the subject of workplace violence prevention and has provided professional contributions to national and international media sources. His "10-Point Threat Assessment Model" and his "5-Point Competency Model for Supervisors" have been used to train managers and supervisors on violence prevention across the United States. He has been a guest on several national television programs.
List of internal workplace violence incidents since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:
09-12-2001, after making a bomb threat to his employer, a large retail chain store in Tampa, police were sent to the residence of the perpetrator to follow up the investigation. The perpetrator pulled a knife on a police officer and was shot to death.
09-12-2001, a distraught Denver Fire Captain allegedly gunned down his supervisor before turning the gun on himself.
09-25-2001, a grieving widow whose husband died under doctor’s care tried to kill the Miami- based doctor but shot a technician instead. She was captured and detained at the scene of the incident.
09-26-2001, at a Detroit auto parts plant, a man chased his former girlfriend through her workplace killing her then turned the gun on himself.
10-12-2001, a military policeman who had been relieved of duty at his Fort Dix, New Jersey post, allegedly shot 2 soldiers, 2 police officers and was shot to death by police.
11-05-2001, a supervising Tallahassee firefighter allegedly shot and wounded a fellow employee in a love triangle situation.
12-06-2001, an employee of a large wood products manufacturing company in Goshen, Indiana, who was pending termination shot and killed 1 employee, wounded 6 others before committing suicide.
01-16-2002, following academic dismissal at a Virginia law school, a former law student allegedly killed 2 professors, one student and wounded 3 before being subdued by bystanders.
01-18-2002, in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida community college, a man allegedly shot his ex-girlfriend to death then turned the gun on himself.
01-30-2002, at a school district bus garage in Zanesville, Ohio, a school bus driver allegedly walked into a co-worker’s bus and opened fire killing her, then killed himself.
02-05-2002, at a Mobile, Alabama newspaper office, a mailroom worker shot a fellow employee to death and fled. Police later captured him.
03-01-2002, a worker at a Silicon Valley biotech firm, shot and killed his former boss and at her residence then later turned the gun on himself.
03-22-2002, fearing impending termination, a worker at an aviation parts manufacturing plant in South Bend, Indiana shot 3 employees to death, wounded another 4 employees and later committed suicide.
04-05-2002, at a worldwide telecommunications firm in Raleigh, North Carolina, a disgruntled employee, allegedly made threats to fly his airplane into his workplace. He was fired and arrested for terrorist threats.
04-10-2002, a police officer in Dover Township, New Jersey allegedly gunned down and killed 5 of his neighbors, drove to the residence of the police chief, with whom he had worked for years and wounded him. He fled and committed suicide.
04-15-2002, in a medical clinic in the City of Industry, California, a technician allegedly shot and killed 3 clinic members including one doctor then turned the gun on himself.
04-19-2002, a fired temporary worker returned to a Miami Beach construction site and shot his former supervisor in the chest with a spear gun.
05-29-2002, a 20-year old defendant in a criminal case in Milwaukee grabbed a bailiff’s gun and wounded him and was shot to death by a plain-clothes police officer.