It is too soon to say whether the protection order issued to the suspect in the shooting in Hesston, Kansas last week served as a trigger to this deadly event. And we do not know how much, if any, the suspect’s employer knew of the allegations of domestic abuse or whether the employer had a trained threat management team that was actively assessing and managing this threat. But sadly, this, as with other acts of targeted violence in the workplace, serves as a wake-up call to assess our preparedness.
Kansas law enforcement officials have already identified a number of factors preceding the shooting that could have served, taken in their totality, as warning signs of the potential for targeted violence.
- The posting of pictures and video of guns, in possession of the suspect, on social media.
- Allegations of domestic abuse by the suspect’s girlfriend.
- The suspect’s history of criminal activity including violence.
- Allegations of the suspect’s possible alcohol abuse and depression.
- Reports that the suspect recently purchased a new truck. *
* It is not unusual for someone who is planning an act of targeted violence to make high dollar purchases, knowing they will not have to worry about the long-term financial obligation.
Law enforcement reported to the media that the suspect was served with a temporary order of protection at the workplace shortly before the shooting took place. The timing of that order and the location where it was served cannot be ignored.
Reasons for Protection Orders
It’s important to understand what a protection order is, how such orders play into a threat management strategy by employers, and how employers must acknowledge that domestic violence can, and has, manifested itself in violence in the workplace. Employers can no longer look at domestic violence as a personal issue with their employees, whether they are the victim or the suspect. Protection orders may be issued for several reasons to include:
- Prohibit the abuser from contacting the victim.
- Force the abuser to vacate a shared residence with the victim.
- Order the abuser to remain an established distance from the victim at the place of employment or residence.
- Order the abuser to attend counseling.
- Prohibit the abuser from purchasing a firearm.
Do Protection Orders Work?
This has been a topic of discussion for a number of years among threat management experts like myself, forensic psychologists, mental health clinicians, employment attorneys, human resource professionals, and law enforcement.
In an article published in 2010 in the Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and Law (AAPL), authors Christopher T. Benitez, MD, Dale E. McNiel, PhD and Renée L. Binder, MD discuss “Do Protection Orders Protect?” JAAPL Article. Benitez, McNiel, and Binder noted “several perpetrator characteristics may predict renewed abuse after initiation of a protection order”. They went on to note that these characteristics included a history of violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues. They also found that most were younger males with less than full-time employment, and most importantly, the characteristic most frequently associated with protection order violation was past criminal activity.
The authors of the article also noted that “time is a factor related to protection order violation. Much of the violation activity occurs within the first three months after issuance of the order”. They also reported that when it came to victim characteristics and protection orders, “several victim characteristics, while not consistent across all studies, have been associated with renewed abuse after placement of the initial protection order. These include socio-economic status, presence of biological children with the abuser, race/ethnicity, and prior drug use by the victim”.
So do protection orders work? As the authors noted it depends on how you understand the question, or from my perspective, through the lens in which you view this issue. Employment attorneys may view the situation differently than a threat management expert, who may view it differently than law enforcement or human resource professionals. And while the victim is the one who ultimately makes the decision to seek, or not to seek, a protection order, the employer needs to be aware of how that decision will affect their threat management strategy. At the same time, they must assess this through two perspectives. (1) The victim and person requesting the protection order is an employee and (2) the suspect who has been served the protection order is an employee.
Ensure your organization has a process that, once they become aware a protection order is being considered, the threat management team discusses if and how it may impact their threat management strategy. The value of having various perspectives and expertise in such issues is critical in ensuring a safe workplace. Know, understand, and implement best practices when managing threats affecting your employees.