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Violent acts aren’t born in a vacuum

SHARE Violent acts aren’t born in a vacuum

Perpetrators of workplace or school violence express their inclinations long before they act.

Many have a history of physical or verbal intimidation. They express empathy for perpetrators of high-profile violent acts.They have a disregard for the well-being and safety of others. They have no social life outside work. Their jobs may be in jeopardy. They may have a failed relationship.

"These folks don't keep it a secret. It's very rare that these people just erupt," said Dan Weinrich, who heads employee resource programs in Salt Lake County.

The problem is, when a co-worker or student starts behaving in a threatening manner, the natural tendency is to do nothing.

"That's the worst thing to do. If their threats aren't heard, what are they going to do? They're going to escalate it," said Weinrich, the county's senior employment manager.

What can follow is what Weinrich terms the "earthquake or volcano of human behavior."

"It's a low-frequency event. But when it happens, oh, baby."

Weinrich, who trains county supervisors to recognize characteristics of workplace violence, shared his lessons with Salt Lake County educators, clergy and law enforcement officials Tuesday during a school violence summit at the Salt Lake Government Center.

He advised educators to approached troubled students or co-workers with concern and respect.

"My belief is, if we can intervene at earlier levels, we can stop the escalations," he said.

Workplaces that tolerate horseplay or other inappropriate conduct are more prone to problems. The best course is to establish a zero-tolerance policy and standards of conduct.

School violence should be addressed under a policy that is uniform among Salt Lake County school districts and the policy should be in place by next fall.

Such was the recommendation of Salt Lake District Attorney Neal Gunnerson at the school violence meeting.

Gunnerson's "Bulletproofing Our Schools - Call to ARMS (A Response Mechanism for Schools)" proposal calls for a consistent reporting and response mechanism to address violent acts in public schools.

The recommendations call for a multiagency approach to sharing information among schools, law enforcement and courts, as well as developing plans of action, including establishing a chain of communication command at a crisis site. Other considerations include procedures to handle the media, where to establish triage and evacuation areas as well as prevention techniques.

School districts along the Wasatch Front have emergency preparedness plans in place, although they vary in detail and protocol.

"I'm pleased to have a countywide focus. The truth is, these incidents can happen just about anywhere. For all of us, it's good to have our awareness heightened and have consistent procedures in place. To me, there's a whole lot of work to be done," said Kent Gardner, spokesman for the Granite School District.

One of the most important issues in crisis management is establishing a chain of command, Gardner said.

"The thought of having CNN and 14 other national media folks here makes my skin crawl. We are not experienced in handling that level of interest. Policy is helpful so we can speak with one voice," Gardner said.