Loop Shooting Places Spotlight on Workplace Safety

ArrowStream CEO shot by colleague in Loop high rise

Security experts say the last thing high rise landlords should do, in the wake of a workplace shooting in Chicago Thursday, is turn their buildings into fortresses as a hedge against violence.

"The reality is, that's just not practical in today's business environment," says Chicago security expert Mike Mairston. "People aren't comfortable with that, they aren't going to stand for that, and you're going to lose good employees who are going to go elsewhere.

Indeed, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests such shootings are rare. Out of the millions of businesses in the United States, there were only 381 shootings in 2012, the last year for which statistics were available. Most involved men, and the vast majority of the shooters were outside assailants, 28 of them relatives or domestic partners, 47 of them co-workers of the victims.

"You know this was not an issue about security," says Arnette Heintze, a security consultant and former Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago office of the Secret Service. "This was an issue of an individual who was troubled and resorted to violence when they most likely felt that was the only way out."

Heintze emphasizes that most workplace shootings involve targeted violence, often involving distruntled employees or customers about whom the company might already have been aware.

"It can be identified," he says. "It can be assessed, and it can be managed."

Building security officials stress the importance of being advised when tenants know trouble might be brewing. Many buildings in the Loop are occupied by scores, if not hundreds of businesses, with one security firm performing screening in the lobby. It's important, they say, to be informed when an employee or client who might be visiting, could be extremely troubled.

"There may have been troubled statements," Heintze says. "There could have been aggressive behavior."

But at the same time, Heintze agrees that installation of devices like x-ray machines and metal detectors would be an over-reaction. He estimates fewer than 10 Loop buildings have metal detectors in their lobbies.

"Our nation as a whole understands the need to be secure," he says. "But we also balance the need for access and convenience with the threat environment that actually exists."

The BLS says often, workplace violence isn't in offices at all. Of the 381 workplace shootings cited, 137 were in retail settings, and more than a third were robberies.

The most notable recent workplace shooting in Chicago was in December of 2006, when an angry client found his way into a law office at the Citigroup Center above the Ogilvie Transportation Center. Four people, including the gunman, were killed. Experts say all too often, workplace violence involves, if not predictable behavior, at least areas where someone was aware that anger on the part of an employee or customer might be escalating to something worse.

"The problem today only would have been resolved if you'd changed that individual's mindset," Mairson says. "You're not going to do that with a camera, or an x-ray machine, or a metal detector."

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