Michael Tabman

When Workplace Violence Hits Home. Do Guns Belong in the Office?

In Crime and Security on February 21, 2012 at 2:57 am

Last week an experienced federal law enforcement officer from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) shot his supervisor during a personnel-related meeting.   As with all workplace violence incidents – this came as a shock, especially since the perpetrator was a trusted member of the law enforcement community and nobody saw this coming.  What was not shocking was the presence of a gun.

Let’s exclude the Second Amendment from this discussion.  None of us really know what our founding fathers intended.  And, any attempt to interpret that limited verbiage will result in each of us concluding what we want to conclude – we are naturally biased to do so.

Let’s also amend the axiom, “Guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people” to the more accurate, “People with guns shoot people.”

After this tragic workplace shooting, more information about the shooter, Ezequiel Garcia was unearthed, which delved a bit deeper into his psyche and personal life, and sounded all too familiar.  His marriage was suffering. Garcia had complained to his wife about problems at work; his requests for a transfer had been denied.  During the course of undercover work, Garcia was roughed up by Los Angeles Police, but lost a federal lawsuit when the jury decided that the police did not use excessive force.  These last two facts are most interesting.  Studies of workplace violence have shown that one of several contributing factors to workplace violence is when an employee believes that his grievances are not being heard.  That is subject to the perspective of the employee.  Did Garcia view his transfer denial and loss of the lawsuit as his grievances being summarily dismissed?  Should anyone have put these factors together?

As an FBI Executive Manager, I often sat across from armed agents when I would give them the “bad news.”  Early in my supervisory career, I relieved a young agent of his gun and badge due to his pending dismissal.  While I probably had the image of the agent “breaking bad” in the back of my mind, I never seriously considered it.  I never took a precautionary action, such as having another agent with me, or assuring the agent was not armed.  I never inquired into the agent’s personal life to determine if there were factors present that may have been leading to a shooting incident.  But I should have.

Will this event persuade law enforcement agencies to approach contentious personnel meetings differently?  Perhaps.  Will you think differently about the dangers of workplace violence?

In the wake of workplace shootings, many executives struggle with the question of guns in the workplace.  Would the presence of guns make shootings less likely?

We cannot predict the future; we can only play the odds.  Is it more likely that a gun will result in an intentional or accidental shooting?  Or, will it more likely result in stopping a violent event?  Based on my experience, I vote for the former, though there are exceptions and circumstances that require a different approach.  Generally, more guns mean more danger.  Some law enforcement officers would disagree with that perspective.  Ultimately, the decision of guns in the workplace rests with executive management.  That decision should be based on facts, evidence and a thorough assessment of the workplace environment.  In my first book, Walking the Corporate Beat: Police School for Business People, I discuss workplace violence and strategies for prevention.

Training, planning, preparing and remaining alert are the greatest defenses to workplace violence.  This recent tragedy sadly highlights that we are all at risk.

Please visit michaeltabman.com for more information.

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  1. Difficult to say who should have a gun and who shouldn’t. I worked as a security guard, minimum wage, no real special qualifications. Before was hired, one of the previous guards had gotten depressed. He came to work got his gun and started shooting at people. Another guard shot him. Who should have had the gun? I think maybe in professions that call for firearms, there should be reviews, individuals carrying firearms should probably be investigated from time to time for signs of instability. Who can say if we can predict or prevent these tragedies, but we should certainly try.

  2. I’m not sure what you’re suggesting. Are you saying that officers shouldn’t be armed when they’re in an office for fear of negligent discharges or rampages?

    • Law enforcement officers are like everyone else, subject to unpredictable conduct. Law enforcement executives should consider having officers disarm prior to a highly emotional and potentially confrontational meeting. They should also consider determining if other factors that may lead to violence are present. We should not assume…

      Thanks for your input,
      Michael

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