workplace violence

Our society, for the most part, knows the difference between right and wrong. We value this to such an extent that we punish those that commit illegal actions. And those responsible for enforcing these laws and keeping our communities safe from those that don’t adhere to the law are no different. I think we all agree that corruption and misconduct in law enforcement agencies should be investigated, exposed and eliminated from their ranks. But, like with any organization, there are risk factors to consider to prevent workplace violence when this illegal behavior is exposed.

Matt Zapotosky, a Washington Post reporter who covers national security and Justice Department issues, published an interesting article recently about punishing – and publishing – employee misconduct at federal law enforcement agencies.

Learning from the FBI’s Misconduct Procedures

According to the article, in a recent two-year stretch, “126 FBI agents or employees were disciplined for offenses ranging from drinking and driving to sexual misconduct to misusing their government charge cards.” The FBI believes in making examples of those who participate in misconduct, by sending quarterly emails throughout the Bureau, reporting the misconduct in detail, the individual incidents and the penalties the employees received for such behavior. Given its success, other federal law enforcement agencies, such as the U.S. Secret Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, are now implementing similar programs in their agencies.

Keeping Employees Safe

I have written before about the importance of preserving an employee’s self-esteem in the interest of public safety while removing the “bad apples.” I was relieved to read in the Zapotosky article that Candice M. Will, an FBI Assistant Director who heads the Office of Professional Responsibility, was quoted as saying the email is “not intended to be a shaming document. It’s intended to be an instructive device.” She believes fear of having one’s behavior broadcast to the entire organization is enough to deter the misconduct, especially since it’s the most-read internal document.

Although the employees are not named and all other personal identifiers are removed from the reports, I still believe great care must be taken to ensure this practice of public dissemination does not make law enforcement workplaces more susceptible to workplace violence. Why? Because a lack of self-esteem is often a potential cause for violence in the workplace – and law enforcement is no exception.

Is Law Enforcement More Susceptible to Workplace Violence?

In February 16, 2012, U.S. Customs Enforcement Agent Ezequiel “Zeke” Garcia shot his supervisor, Kevin Kozak, the office’s number two in command, six times. Kozak survived his wounds. In a manner comparable to how other active shooter incidents have been precipitated, Garcia had met with Kozak to discuss his performance and was reportedly upset that Kozak had denied his request for a transfer. ICE Agent Perry Woo entered the meeting room and wrestled Garcia for control of his gun. In the process, Woo shot and killed Garcia and ended the deadly confrontation.

Dr. Steve Albrecht, a San Diego-based speaker and author on high-risk HR and security issues worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years. He points out that when a concerning employee is a cop, the stakes change dramatically. In this situation, we are faced with an armed, tactically-trained employee who may be angry, depressed, violent, vengeful, or driven by various demons ranging from substance abuse to mental illness. In any situation involving the presence of firearms, especially around a troubled or upset employee, we should manage the situation with compassion, assertiveness and an extra dose of vigilance in order to keep all participants and nearby personnel safe.

5 Steps to Ensuring a Safe Termination

Following these five steps can help ensure you have a safe termination. These can be applied to any workplace, including law enforcement agencies.

  1. Offer a “face-saving” outcome for the employee, including a termination package that permits the employee to move forward in life with dignity and self-respect intact. Such a package should be considered in the interest of safety, even if not typically offered by the organization, during terminations for cause.
  2. Extend health benefits, including Employee Assistance, to the terminated employee to ensure adequate mental health treatment continues.
  3. Formulate a response to provide to co-workers and to future queries about the former employee from prospective employers.
  4. Consider implementing ongoing security measures following the termination, as well as monitoring any efforts by the employee to maintain contact with the organization or other employees.
  5. Identify existing social systems that could provide insight into the former employee’s behavior including social media monitoring and employee assistance support as well as communication networks among police, family and friends.

Great care must be taken in publishing misconduct within the law enforcement. Notwithstanding the apparent success of these programs in agencies such as the FBI – at least at one level or another – agency leaders must weigh the risks of these initiatives associated with the damaging effects humiliation can have on an employee – legally armed and professionally trained in the use of weapons –  and their self-esteem.

I welcome your thoughts on this difficult subject.

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