On August 18, 2015, the Washington Post published an article regarding a report released by the U.S. Central Command, three years after Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales shot 22 villagers in Afghanistan. According to the report, military commanders missed signs that Bales “would engage in future unwarranted violent behavior against Afghans.”
Radical Extremist or Environment-Driven?
The murders committed by Bales were not the result of jihadist-type radicalization, such as those committed by an Army psychologist at Ft. Hood in 2009. Instead they were the terrible actions of a fellow comrade in arms whose behaviors and environment rose to such a level that his fellow junior officers were concerned.
The post-incident investigation revealed several interesting facts: (1) that senior soldiers either did not know of banned behavior, including drinking, at the base or participated in it, and (2) junior soldiers felt uncomfortable “jumping the chain” to report violations.
Other investigative documents allegedly showed that lower-ranking enlisted soldiers at Bales’ Special Operations outpost regarded him as “paranoid” and “crazy.” Higher-ranking soldiers viewed him as a dependable noncommissioned officer looking out for his soldiers.
Someone Should Have Spoken Up
With these details, many have questioned why the junior soldiers didn’t tell anyone about Bales’ change in behavior. Not expressing concerns isn’t limited to the armed forces – we also regularly encounter similar resistance to reporting behaviors of concern across the nation’s various workplaces. Over and over again, we have conducted workplace violence threat assessments on high performing employees whose behaviors have raised flags among their co-workers who were not willing or knowledgeable about how and with whom to share this information.
Prevention Is Possible
Our experts have completed hundreds of threat assessments which provide guidance to employers from U.S. corporations to federal, state and local government agencies on ways to prevent acts of workplace violence. One of the first things we look for is whether the employer has a policy in place requiring employees to report concerning behaviors of their colleagues without fear of reprisal or retribution. Of course, there are other factors involved, including harassment, intimidation, threats, disruptive behavior and violence at work. Some of the most well-structured threat assessment programs include:
- Development of capabilities that contribute to increased workplace safety and employee security across a company’s operations.
- Early identification of risks and red flags – and, by extension, a greater chance for intervention before violence occurs.
- Greater collaboration and information sharing across a company’s functions which individually hold “pieces” of information about individuals or behaviors of concern – information that must be aggregated to form a truer picture, more accurate analysis and more effective workplace violence prevention.
Granted, the U.S military carries out its duties in hazardous and violent environments. But when a soldier is concerned about inappropriate behaviors by others in their unit, they need to report it to their superiors. A culture of information sharing and reporting to management is just as fundamentally critical to understanding and preventing tragedies such as the massacre committed by Bales in 2012 as it is to ensuring that every one of us and our families are safe every time we go to the mall or the movie theater or send our children off to school. I – along with my Hillard Heintze colleagues – have dedicated our entire careers to that aspiration.