by Dr. Dennis A. Davis, Ogletree Deakins, Director of Client Training

As more information becomes available, we are finding an all-too-familiar profile of the young man believed to be responsible for the recent shootings on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. This is a very appropriate time to refresh our memories about the kinds of behaviors which should be cause for concern on school campuses and around the office.

Those individuals who go on to perpetrate very violent acts often fit one or more of the following profiles:

The Loner: This person often perceives him or herself as superior to others. This person tends to be more of an observer in office activities than a participant. For the loner, the idea of working on a team project is repulsive. In extreme lonerism, the employee may even be willing to jeopardize their employment rather than to work with another employee.
The Weapons Fanatic: This is not about gun ownership, but rather about the individual who projects a sense of inadequacy. The weapons fanatic is often described as being “a man of few words” or “the strong and silent type.” In fact, the weapons fanatic often is very poor at expressing him or herself. Pay attention to the colleague, subordinate or superior who is only interested in talking about weapons and the kinds of damage they can produce.

The Substance Abuser: There is a significant correlation between violence and substance abuse. People with substance abuse problems often show a decline in their judgment and ability to use reason. Drugs and alcohol don’t necessarily make them violent. Rather, drugs and alcohol lower the inhibitions and lessen the chances that they are thinking clearly.

The Severely Depressed: One of the leading causes of missed work is depression. Undiagnosed and/or untreated depression often masks a rage and hostility toward others. Some of the telling signs of depression include: a general slow down (walking, talking       and working); inability to focus on tasks at hand; and confusion and/or disorientation.

“What do I do if I know this person?” Remember that an individual who fits one of these profiles is not necessarily going to go on a shooting rampage. The behavior, however, does warrant attention. It is important to make the employee’s supervisor aware of the behavior. More importantly, you should notify Human Resources of your concern. If your concerns are not heard at first, keep raising them!

“What do I do if there is actual violence on our premises?” Each of us has three primary responsibilities in a violent emergency: remove yourself from harm’s way; warn others; and contact the authorities.

Never run toward what you suspect might be gunfire. Do not move toward loud noises or anything that might signal there is trouble. If you are in an open space (such as a courtyard), look for shelter (under a table or desk). Stay away from windows and doors.

Extreme acts of violence involving the taking of human life, though unfortunate, are still rare. Nonetheless, it is smart to be prepared.

Note: This article was published in the April/May 2007 issue of The Employment Law Authority. 

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