WESTBOROUGH, MA June 2, 2018 Violence in the workplace is commonplace but has taken a back seat in the setting of recent school shootings. Research on the “lethal employee” is becoming more reliable in the aftermath of of workplace violence. Nevertheless people commit murder in their workplace more than ever. What should people do if they are worried about a co-worker becoming violent. There are signs that someone is loosing control and may be thinking of violence. A list of potential factors is taken below from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security publication from 2008. The term “going postal” refers to a workplace shooter or act of violence. It evolved from workplace violence in the U.S. Postal service in the 1980’s according to a report published in 2008.
“One theory was that the post office was such a high-pressure work environment that it drove people insane. In the years to come, other cases of murderous rages by mailmen cemented the idea in the public mind. “Going postal” became a synonym for flipping out under pressure.”
RECOGNIZING POTENTIAL WORKPLACE VIOLENCE
“An active shooter in your workplace may be a current or former employee, or an acquaintance of a current or former employee. Intuitive managers and coworkers may notice characteristics of potentially violent behavior in an employee. Alert your Human Resources Department if you believe an employee or coworker exhibits potentially violent behavior” (2008)
Indicators of Potential Violence by an Employee Employees typically do not just “snap,” but display indicators of potentially violent behavior over time. If these behaviors are recognized, they can often be managed and treated. Potentially violent behaviors by an employee may include one or more of the following (this list of behaviors is not comprehensive, nor is it intended as a mechanism for diagnosing violent tendencies):
• Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
• Unexplained increase in absenteeism; vague physical complaints
• Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene
• Depression / withdrawal
• Resistance and overreaction to changes in policy and procedures
• Repeated violations of company policies
• Increased severe mood swings
• Noticeably unstable, emotional responses
• Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
• Suicidal; comments about “putting things in order”
• Behavior which is suspect of paranoia, (“everybody is against me”)
• Increasingly talks of problems at home
• Escalation of domestic problems into the workplace; talk of severe financial problems
• Talk of previous incidents of violence
• Empathy with individuals committing violence
• Increase in unsolicited comments about firearms, other dangerous weapons and violent crimes
U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2008). Active Shooter – How to Respond
Bovsum, M. (2010) NY Daily News. Mailman massacre: 14 die after Patrick Sherrill ‘goes postal’ in 1986 shootings. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/mailman-massacre-14-die-patrick-sherrill-postal-1986-shootings-article-1.204101 Taken May 19, 2018
WESTBOROUGH, MA April 8, 2018 The myths attributed to persons afflicted with mental illness need to be directly addressed and corrective programs must evolve provide enhanced understanding and awareness of mental health. Police officers encounter citizens with mental illness daily and often are called upon to calm a volatile situation often with very little formal training. This fact is changing as more police officers are trained in Psychological First Aid and Crisis Intervention Training – 2 programs that afford front line officers with the behavioral observation skill and communication necessary to reduce risk to police and the public from highly charged persons exhibiting signs of mental health crisis.
Psychological experts believe mentally ill persons lack the higher order planning to execute the complex steps necessary for anything more than petty crime – more often associated with co-morbid substance abuse. This is where the problem lies. “The myth is you have to be “crazy” to do something like this (active shooter). So retrospectively, you look at people and you say, wow, this obviously – that guy should have been branded – but alcohol accounts for a great deal more violence than mental illness does.” according to Joel Dvoskin in an APA interview dispelling myths about the mentally ill.
Remember it is a fact that those with mental illness are rarely violent and those who commit violence are rarely mentally ill.
Until recently, here in Massachusetts many smaller police agencies are forced to pay overtime for police officers to sit in hospitals or outside of jail cells watching a mentally ill person who has been arrested. This policy grew from the fear of litigation if someone dies in police custody who is known to be a mentally ill person. Specifically, if a police officer arrests a person with a known history of suicidal ideation it has been policy among many agencies to provide an officer to monitor the prisoner to assure for a safe transfer to court. If this occurs on a week end night that often means that someone must have eyes on the person in custody until the next available court date.
But is this truth or is this part of the myth associated with those taken into custody for crimes committed while suffering from a substantive mental illness? Or is the problem really associated with substance abuse?
“Pre-arrest diversion also has been shown to be successful when law enforcement and mental health professionals respond together to behavioral health emergencies. Individuals are more often referred to the services and treatment that they need, rather than enter the criminal justice system as an offender. This co-responder model has delivered great results in Massachusetts to date. Programs run by Advocates, a human services agency, in partnership with several police departments in Middlesex County and funded in part by the Department of Mental Health have generated over 4,000 diversions and $11 million in savings since 2003.” Diane Gould Worcester Telegram February 2018
Dvoskin, J. (2018) Speaking of Psychology: Dispelling the myth of violence and mental illness Episode 27 American Psychological Association
WESTBOROUGH, MA APRIL 8, 2018 Restraining orders in cases of domestic violence have been around for decades or longer. At times people require formal court orders of protection from those who might bring forth violence to loved ones. I have personally written over 50 requests for protection of a victim of domestic violence. Most of these are temporary order issued by an on-call judge who listens to police officer statements over the telephone. They are usually granted and valid through the next court day – generally within 48 hours. The problem is that after the 48 hours is up the conflict between intimate partners has been long forgotten resulting in a waste of police resources and an irritated district court judge. Obviously this is not always the outcome.
In Massachusetts, the MGL 209-A covers orders of protection and its legal underpinning. Section 3B in MGL 209-A requires the removal of firearms from those with active RO’s taken out against them. As many as 50 percent of restraining orders (RO’s) also called protection from abuse orders (PFO’s) are continued because the victim showed up at court and testified as to the protection she believes is needed and fear she feels living with her intimate partner. These are not new and the complaints and dysfunction among intimate partners is a continuous drain on LEO resources.
Calls for service because of domestic violence are frequent. Police officers are often asked to keep the peace at times when violence has occurred. Arrests are mandatory when physical injury has occurred. At this point police are required to remove the violent spouse and offer protection from further abuse to the victim and her family. When RO’s are granted there is a growing belief that guns should be taken from subjects against whom RO’s are granted. Experts say these GVRO laws are modeled after domestic-violence restraining orders that also authorize police to take away guns from people who pose threats to their partners, but with safeguards.
“Ensuring the mental wellness and health of first responders has long been an under appreciated task for the heads of police agencies. U.S. law enforcement has learned from tragic events over the years and now trains to respond to threats with the best equipment and practices known today. However, many chiefs are not prepared to deal effectively with the intense scope and unanticipated duration of the aftermath of these events, and many chiefs are unaware of the impact such events will have on their communities and the officers in their agencies.”
“These red-flag laws are a possible solution because they’re an intermediate step between doing nothing and trying to involuntarily hospitalize an individual,” said Christopher Slobogin, a law professor at Vanderbilt University.
“While LEO’s may be more resilient, law enforcement officers also quietly deal with an outsized share of our society’s violence and death. As a result, too many officers struggle with alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.”
“You can’t just call up law enforcement and say this person that I’m mad at is a danger to me, it is not possible without judicial oversight,” said April Zeoli, a professor who studies domestic violence at Michigan State University. Her research shows these restraining orders reduced intimate partner violence by 13%.
“Research data provide strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of emotional fitness training to enhance resilience, positive emotions, cognitive flexibility, and emotional well-being, and more importantly, they strengthen professional pride and organizational commitment” according to Tung Au, et.al. in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology in 2018.
Felons, the dangerously mentally ill, perpetrators of domestic violence – these people have demonstrated their unfitness to own a firearm” David French, 2018
Supporters say the “red flag” measure—also known as a gun-violence or extreme-risk protection order—offers a way to address a legal conundrum: how to take action against people perceived as an imminent threat to themselves or others, but who haven’t done anything illegal.
WESTBOROUGH, MA March 22, 2018 The recent spate of explosive attacks on apparently random victims continues as of this blog post. People around the world are speculating about the psychological underpinning of a person or persons who can create a bomb and deliver it to some intended victim without being caught. The explosion at the FedEx depot is something new as compared to the first 4 blasts. So far 2 victims have been killed by the bombs. The initial victims were African-American and Latino raising the specter of the bombs being a hate crime.
What does the bomb say about the bomb maker? Bomb construction thought to be a characteristic of underlying ideology and may be linked to motivation. Certainly explosive devices range in their level of technology and sophistication. In 1995 Timothy McVeigh created a powerful bomb made out of a deadly cocktail of agricultural fertilizer, diesel fuel, and other chemicals that killed 168 people at the Murrah Federal Building in OKC including many children at a nearby pre-school.
The type of bomb in Austin, TX has not been described by police or federal agents but the frequency of the attacks is unprecedented. It may suggest that more than one individual is working to produce the explosives and make deliveries or the devices were constructed to stockpile before deliveries were made. The bomber likely lives alone or has a shop where the devices and their components are stored for assembly. His keen interest is in making people afraid and keeping a city in lock down. McVeigh was a former munitions soldier in the Army and may have learned his technique in the process of training with the U.S. Army.
If the Austin devices are the work of a single serial bomber than the frequency and recent change in method of detonation raise the bar in terms of sophistication of delivery but the risk of being caught or making a mistake may also be accentuated. The police chief in Austin reportedly said that by using FedEx for shipping the explosive the likelihood of capture in short order was increased. An image was obtained of a man at FedEx that eventually became a person of interest.
The person who is behind this seige is likely an angry and detached with few friends. Being marginalized lends both to his stealth and fuels his anger and resentment. He may be suicidal and ultimately he final blast is to be part of his exit plan. He quite likely enjoys the sadistic control and media attention he is getting.
The fact that there are so few deaths – versus a massive splash event is not quite clear. It speaks to ambiguous planning and perhaps unclear motive and may signal the growing disorganization associated with his terminal event. Additional personality features are uncovered with each action. These are kept from the public domain. My analyses are conjectural.
WESTBOROUGH, MA March 20, 2018 Greater protection of victims of domestic violence is needed. When provisions for a plan of safety are executed victims are expected be afforded greater safety but not always. Domestic violence victims are at greatest risk when they make the decision to leave a violent partnership. This often means having a safety plan – especially when specific threats have been made. Safety plans are often drawn up by women in conjunction with counselors who specialize in helping families stay off the grid and hidden from violent spouses. In one case of familial homicide and suicide it was clear that the commonalities needed to be exposed among cases of familial homicide.
In particular, when I teach law enforcement officers about DVH, I encourage detailed witness statements much as possible especially if the victim described the fear and belief that she will one day be murdered by her partner. These documented statements, if spontaneously uttered, are often the greatest predictor of potential harm to victims and her children. If written into a police report the decision about dangerousness and bail may be influenced.
In the 2011 homicide from Maine, Steven Lake used social media to track his wife and 2 children from whom he was mandated to stay away. Yet, if his wife posted a photograph of his children he went to great lengths to undermine their safety by identifying anyone who “liked” the photo or commented on it. He used these posts to triangulate her whereabouts and living arrangements. This was a large part of what marginalized Stephen Lake and in turn Lake posted his own propaganda espousing his loneliness and love for his children. Lake garnered significant support from those social media “friends” who knew nothing about what he had done to require the protection from abuse order. Many, in fact, encouraged him to fight for his children which may have been a catalyst in his festering resentment and ultimately terminal rage. He was provided information and access to his wife’s social media platforms by a family member. For her part, Lake’s wife wanted to remain close to her in-laws in an effort to normalize her children’s life as much as possible. For example Lake’s parents were invited to the family’s thanksgiving celebration but declined because Steven Lake could not attend.
Similarities in domestic violence
Cases of domestic violence have similarities across socioeconomic status, ethnic and cultural background, and the cycle of abuse. The growth of social media platforms affords those inclined to control and isolate intimate partners from persons who might provide them security. Cases of domestic violence share the common theme of intimidation, coercion and control. Social media are a fun and useful medium to keep in touch with friends and family. But it is also lends itself to sometimes nefarious trolling to gain a perceived advantage in undermining the safety plan. Social media trolling contributes to the control they seek especially when victims seek protection. In order to limit the impact of social media stalking victims need to shut down all social media accounts and activity. Greater protection of victims and family members requires a comprehensive plan with provisions for times when they are violated – including mandatory arrest, risk assessment and no bail containment if deemed necessary.
“That is one conclusion of four former and current police officers in a recently released report. The men, who were volunteers and had no connection to the shootings, spent the last several months interviewing 69 people about the triple homicide and suicide in Dexter in June, to suggest ways to prevent future tragedies.” Portland Press Herald, November 11, 2011
The Psychological Autopsy report suggests improvements that may prevent future domestic violence homicides:
• Use of social media platforms by people involved in conflicts should be minimized, to prevent intimidation and stalking.
• Protection-from-abuse orders and bail conditions should mandate disclosure of all firearms that are accessible to the domestic-violence offender.
• An offender who seeks, hides, uses or attempts to acquire a gun or ammunition when a protection-from-abuse order is in place should be charged with a felony and not allowed bail.
• Bail amounts should be high enough to deter abusers from violating a protection orders.
• When a protection order violation involves a deadly threat, a judge should set bail, not a bail commissioner.
• Global positioning systems should track abusers during periods of protection orders in any incidents that involve deadly threats or evidence of weapons.
• At least two officers should be sent to all domestic-violence calls when officers suspect violence is likely.
• At-risk spouses should be advised to live in as secure an environment as possible, with deadbolts on doors, secured windows, motion sensor lights and a land telephone line.
• People charged with domestic violence crimes should not wait more than a year to go to trial.
The safety of potential victims including children is the penultimate goal of protection orders but too often they are ignored via stalking efforts that include using social media to track the activities of an estranged spouse. This overt defiance requires careful analysis and requires the arrest of the violator. Once this takes place a dangerousness hearing must take place before he or she is released but this rarely takes place.
WESTBOROUGH, MA March 1, 2018 There is a fine line between civil liberties and the need to keep Americans safe. As of now that line has not been crossed in terms of built-in protections from those who are most dangerous to society. But when someone who thinks he is being commanded by the neighborhood beagle to murder young lovers as Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz did in the 1970’s – can remain free to ply on his dangerous delusions? Berkowitz was a more obvious case of psychotic behavior and violence although ultimately he was found guilty of murder.
“The specter of mental illness insures a convenient scapegoat” Michael Sefton, 2013
Have we have lost site of what it means to deal with mental illness and keep people from being victimized because of a threat to the civil liberties of the mentally ill? No. Everyone deserves due process but those with a proclivity toward gun violence who have expressed an intent to murder should be afforded closer scrutiny and be kept from having access to firearms. In some cases they must be contained as a means of keeping potential victims and the greater society safe.
It will be interesting to see the psychological profile that emerges moving forward although as of this posting authorities in Broward county are negotiating a guilty plea and when that is signed off we will not hear about him again – until he is lost in prison, or the next murderous episode is recorded. The local district attorney has hinted he may seem the death penalty for the perpetrator of the despicable actions taken one month ago in February, 2018.
“Civil liberties that have historically ended in mass homicide must no longer be “civil liberties” to any degree. That includes owning guns, knives, poison and baseball bats. People without criminal intentions and such homicidal hang-up’s tend to worry not about “civil liberties””. Brian Gagan 2018
How can we not collect data on someone seeking information on proclivities toward violence? Every time I shop on-line I receive hundreds of pop up ads for similar products I may like. On Saturday February 17th, CNN’s Michael Smerconish asked the question “would it not be possible to have a similar technology for data mining that looks for proclivities toward violence and capture their social media footprint” of those who might do us harm? There are algorithms used to track people’s on-line shopping behaviors why can’t there be the same data mining to bring forth those looking for weapons, those buying ammunition – as in the case of the Las Vegas shooter, and those who express their desire for committing mass murder via You Tube video’s, Facebook posts, Twitter, or any of the other regular social media platforms. In review of Cruz social media presence there were several red flag warnings of his intentions that were missed.
WHAT ARE TRIGGERS FOR VIOLENCE?
There are always triggers for violence, we believe, that sets a plan into action. So far these have not been disclosed In the ongoing investigation. Triggers differ from case to case. Triggers can be sudden emotional loss or overwhelming humiliation that is unbearable to a potential assailant. Triggers may also be the result of months or years of festering emotional baggage that explodes after some relatively benign insult such as being denied a date to the prom or loss of employment.
The red flags were well noted in his pre-incident behavior. The FBI had specific and detailed warnings about Cruz. He had been expelled from the Parkland, Florida high school because of violent behavior and threatening other students. He was sent to an alternative school about which we have learned very little. Outwardly, Cruz was living in the fringe of humanity and was known to be an angry violent person. Media reports indicate 29 visits to the Cruz household by county law enforcement officials because of conflict and fighting with adoptive parents – both of whom are now dead. Upon initial review, after his mother died in November, Cruz had been living with a family who offered to take him in after she died suddenly of pneumonia. His father had passed away several years earlier of a cardiac issue.
Certainly the death of his adoptive mother may have been an emotional catalyst – if she were important in his psychological life. Perhaps she shaped his fragile inner narrative sufficiently to delay this emotional maelstrom by providing a positive sense of self -worth. It is not yet known. But it was Cruz who fired the weapon. The evil was in him not the firearm. More will become known about the Cruz family and his adoption in the coming months. So few of these perpetrators of mass homicide survive. Moving forwsrd, I would suggest accessing police reports under the freedom of information act and see yourself what police were dealing with.
I will say that there are Nikolas Cruz copycats everywhere and we should be on guard for them – as I try to be here in Boston. In Florida, persons suspected of having mental illness may be held under the Baker Mental Health Act allowing for involuntary psychiatric exam. All states have this mental health protocol but too often law enforcement officers are not trained to make these determinations or are concerned about litigation. This is training I want to see begin to become part of the academy training for career law enforcement officers. The “see something – say something” adage may be a jump-start toward better control over individuals who brandish ideas of violence and broadcast their underlying emotional slippage on social media. These persons should have no access to firearms.
“There is broad conceptual agreement that regardless of whether you view gun ownership as a right or a privilege, a person can demonstrate through their conduct that they have no business possessing a weapon. Felons, the dangerously mentally ill, perpetrators of domestic violence — these people have not only demonstrated their unfitness to own a weapon, they’ve been granted due process to contest the charges or claims against them. David French in National Review 2018
There must be a mechanism put into place for the fluid containment of individuals who pose high risk such as the individual who pulled off this despicable event. As you see from the quote above, David French published an article in the National Review and proposed a gun violence restraining order (GVRO) that would preclude those most dangerous from owning, buying or having access to guns. Nikolas Cruz was on the fringe for a long time – perhaps his entire adoptive life. It may ultimately come down to an attachment disorder as an underpinning for his terminal rage triggered by loss and powerful resentment toward his adoptive parents and school authorities who expelled him into social and emotional oblivion. His prior behavior, mental health hospitalization, and active threats on social media posts would have likely
made him an unsuitable gun owner. According to David French, senior writer for the National Review, “the concept of the GVRO is simple, not substantially different from the restraining orders that are common in family law, and far easier to explain to the public than our nation’s mental-health adjudications. Moreover, the requirement that the order come from people close to the respondent and that they come forward with real evidence (e.g. sworn statements, screenshots of social-media posts, copies of journal entries) minimizes the chance of bad-faith claims.” in National Review on February 16, 2018. When such a data set is discovered by family, friends, other students, teachers, etcetera a court mandated mental health assessment and the gun violence restraining order may be issued. California has used a system of GVRO enactment since 2014 with success. In 2016 over 80 such restraining orders were issued. In the case of Nikolas Cruz, he was thought to be the “most likely” student to initiate a school shooting according to multiple students interviewed after the shooting last week.
The correlation between mental illness and violence is quite weak. Myths seem to exist that the mentally ill are prone to violent behavior and this is not supported in reality. Dr. Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, said that these mass shootings highlight Americans’ desire to reaffirm a stigmatization of the mentally ill as “ticking time bombs” to avoid more difficult conversations about gun violence according to Phil McCausland reporting for NBC News. I find it extremely important and compelling that Nikolas Cruz is alive today rather than among those sleeping in the morgue in Broward county. Most serial killers have taken their own life at the culmination of the terminal event and just prior to succumbing to the police active shooter response. Perhaps, one day in the distant future, Cruz will give up his secrets to an unsuspecting correction officer with just the right stuff to earn his trust. If such a person exists.
WESTBOROUGH, MA February 15, 2018 The fact is that greater containment of high risk abusers is needed. I have spoken with police chiefs, district attorneys, and state senators here is Massachusetts about conditions of bail. Whenever someone is arrested he or she is given the opportunity for bail – usually on his own recognizance. This means he simply promises to show up for his initial court hearing usually in the next 24-48 hours. Unfortunately, no one seems to believe that a person can be held on “high bail” simply because one subject held his family hostage and threatened them with a firearm or another person tried to strangle his intimate partner.
The system of bail is directly related to a defendant’s prior history of crimes, convictions, and lastly, the nature of the crime for which he is seeking bail. The cycle of abuse is posted to the left. It is all about power and control of the victim. On average, police are called after 9 prior episodes of abuse. In general, they arrive when the couple is in crisis and he may be feeling guilt and making excuses for his behavior. Or other times, the couple is in the honeymoon phase of the cycle and one partner invariably refuses to press charges on his partner. This is what really infuriates police officers called upon to answer these potentially violent calls. “It was all a big misunderstanding” according to the dangerous partner.
I have posted several essays over the years on the topic of “dangerousness” in terms of it being considered prior to the granting of bail. The June 2011 case in Maine culminated after the abuser was released from jail on $ 2000 dollars bail. After his death the money was returned to his family. Some district attorneys have tried to withhold bail money when the defendant fails to appear in court due to death by suicide after domestic violence homicide (DVH). For many this seemed like a draconian response to families who were in pain and suffering immeasurable.
“Many believe there is a disconnect between the judiciary and the bail system.” Sefton, 2011
What can be done to assure greater containment?
Containment refers to the need to protect a potential victim and his or her family from a violent often marginalized family member who is showing red flags of impending terminal rage. A Domestic Violence review panel conducted in June 2011 concluded that “there is nothing society can do for a despondent, abusive spouse whose obsession overrides the norms of society – even his will to live”. If we believe this then we will erroneously surrender innovation in domestic violence prevention and harm reduction. When high-ranking prosecutors say domestic violence homicide cannot be prevented society is cheated out of taking steps toward containment of those who may violate protection from abuse orders. Lois Reckitt, executive director of Family Crisis Services in Cape Elizabeth, ME is quoted as saying that the wrong people are in jail when violence-prone abusers are released from custody to stalk and terrorize their family, as was the case in the Dexter, Maine tragedy in 2010. Containment and harm reduction should be the focus of the legal system and social service agencies alike. The judiciary and political machinery in states throughout America must speak out about protecting victims and families and not say there is nothing that can be done to stop DVH.