Expert Counsels: Establish a Relationship with Police Before Workplace Violence Occurs

"If your company has a workplace violence policy, established action plans and has trained its employees all without any contact with local law enforcement, then your company isn't truly prepared" for violence in the workplace, says Stephen Doherty.

If you do not contact your local law enforcement agency before violence erupts or a situation at the workplace turns potentially violent, you have no way of knowing how that agency will respond to your request for help.

If your company has no policy, plans or training, then this relationship moves from very important to critical, Doherty, CEO of Doherty Partners LLC, a private workplace violence consulting firm., adds.

"When it comes to violence prevention, how does a company approach the police or sheriff's department? Will they even be receptive to formation of a workplace violence collaboration or partnership designed to prevent rather than just react?" Doherty, a 33-year police veteran and former police chief (retired) of Wakefield, Mass.

Recently, Doherty reports, a workplace violence prevention training session was held for the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar. Over 100 chiefs of police and their senior command officers representing police departments and sheriff's offices from all over New England were in attendance. The awareness and prevention training opened by presenting law enforcement officials with a written workplace violence scenario and asking them to indicate how they believed their agency would respond. To encourage candid responses, the survey to the chiefs, sheriffs and commanders was anonymous.

The law enforcement officers were told their department received this call:

"Hi, I'm Judy from the Acme Widget Co. on the west side of town. We need some help because we're very nervous about one of our coworkers. He's acting stranger than usual and the people in our group asked me to call and see if you can help us.

"He's at lunch now in the other room and he's all dressed up in military camouflage army type clothing. He's listening to 'Apocalypse Now' blaring on the radio. He's sharpening some kind of big knife and reading Soldier of Fortune magazine. One of my group asked him to turn down the radio and he said, 'I'm on my lunch hour, I can do whatever I want, get away from me or you'll be sorry.'

"Can you help us? We're afraid of him. Our supervisor won't go near him and seems afraid of him too."

The chiefs were asked how their departments would respond to this information. They were given four choices and told to select their agency's most likely response. The choices were:

  • Call us back when something happens. No crime no local law enforcement interest.
  • Listen to all of the facts and try to provide a referral to a local aid agency such as veterans' services or employee assistance services, because it's not a police problem.
  • Send an officer to interview the complainant.
  • Send an officer to interview complainant, (ID specifics are provided) interview subject of complaint, complete report.

Doherty says this fictitious case analysis created a robust debate concerning strategies of effective risk assessment, threat management and permissible information sharing between stakeholders within the environment of workplace violence prevention.

The chiefs were educated about a guidance released by the FBI, "Workplace Violence Issues in Response," that addresses the issue of information sharing and the divergent concerns between any company and their law enforcement provider:

The FBI guidance counseled, "A company's management may fear it will lose decision making control once law enforcement is involved. It may not want the public attention that can come with police involvement and may feel the company's image will be damaged if its name is connected to a publicized criminal investigation. It may also be concerned about potential civil liability questions, confidentiality issues, or disclosing proprietary information to police. Similarly, police may have information that they cannot share with employers or private security agencies, such as criminal records, firearms records and past reports of criminal behavior."

So, asks Doherty, how do we improve upon existing workplace violence prevention plans? "There is one immutable fact in the corporate-law enforcement relationship: you cannot shop around. You cannot choose your law enforcement provider. It is a function of government local, county or state and is unchangeable. Wherever your company is located and all its branch locations across America, each location has only one primary law enforcement provider. So how do we plan to prevent violence with so many potential jurisdictional differences?"

The answer, he says, is communication. "Recognize your jurisdiction's strengths and weaknesses, current statutes and limitations and factor them into your planning process. Contact local law enforcement and ask if they're interested in workplace violence prevention and assisting you in formulating plans."

He suggests to employers that if their inquiries are met with disinterest or are told to hire private security, then they have learned disappointing, yet valuable, information.

"It is best to call local law enforcement with 10 digits, not three. In other words, if you wait until a workplace situation requires a 911 call, you have lost the opportunity for early intervention, which holds the promise of reducing the severity of violence and victimization," says Doherty, who suggests employers download "Workplace Violence Issues in Response" from the FBI Web site (www.fbi.gov).

As for the results of the question asked of the police chiefs, the results were "encouraging," said Doherty. Seventy percent of the police executives treated this situation as serious enough to respond. But, Doherty cautions, that response "must be tempered by the audience itself. Respondents were police executives so dedicated to violence prevention that they made the time in their busy schedules to attend the seminar. What would be the response of police chiefs and sheriffs in the other estimated 12,500+ law enforcement agencies across the United States?"

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