Baltimore County works to prevent workplace violence

Police to use $60,000 to train employers

January 31, 2000|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Employees at Procter & Gamble Co. in Hunt Valley know only too well about workplace violence.

Just before 8 a.m. Dec. 16, 1996, Robert Francis Kane, 54, pulled into the company parking lot, where employee Christine Ann Dillon was sitting in her car. Kane fatally shot her before killing himself.

That day, Dillon, 44, had asked police to escort her while she moved out of the Cockeysville apartment she shared with Kane, her former fiance. But no one -- neither police nor her fellow employees -- had a clue about what was to happen next.

Since the shootings, awareness has increased at Procter & Gamble about possible signs of workplace violence, said Chuck Kratz, the company's security manager.

Baltimore County police would like to see the same thing happen at businesses throughout the county. The department said last week that it will use $60,000 of a $1.9 million federal grant to teach police and employers how to prevent violence.

Police will train with nationally recognized experts and impart the lessons they learn to local businesses. They also want to develop a way to count and track work-related incidents, which are not reported separately.

"We are training CEOs to be our eyes and ears," said Capt. Evan M. Cohen, who is in charge of Cockeysville Precinct.

The program will start in that precinct, home to the county's largest and fastest-growing business community. The department hopes to expand the program to other jurisdictions.

"Since I have been assigned here [1 1/2 years ago], I've noticed we are getting a lot of calls asking for help with an employee or a relative of an employee," said Lt. Mel Blizzard, who works from the Cockeysville Precinct and is leading the initiative.

The calls involve employees threatening one another, being stalked, receiving telephone threats and, most commonly, being assaulted.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 709 people were killed at work in 1998, many of them during robberies. The number is down from 860 in 1997.

During the same period, however, the number of killings by enraged workers increased by 17, to 98.

Kratz said he gets about 15 inquiries a year from the 1,500 employees at Procter & Gamble's Hunt Valley office. Supervisors have received training in identifying and reacting to warning signs. That, he said, has encouraged more employees to come forward with concerns.

But, he added, many employees are unwilling to discuss personal issues at work.

The term workplace violence covers a wide range of actions -- from homicides to threatening remarks. It has drawn increased attention in the wake of office shootings in Atlanta, Honolulu and Seattle last year. Those incidents left 19 people dead and sparked calls for employers to do more to protect employees.

The high-profile shootings also suggest that violence in the workplace might not only be directed against one person, but against office workers with no connection to the dispute, said Thomas Preston, chief executive officer of Preston Global, a Lexington, Ky., company that has offered training sessions in preventing workplace violence for 40 years.

"We live in an age of intolerance where there is such a demand for downsizing, meeting quarterly demands that the relationship between employers and employees is strained," said Preston.

Employers have responded by increasing security, but few have forged a relationship with police, Preston said.

"Police have to initiate it and if you look across the country that isn't happening very often," he said. "Management has to accept the fact that this will happen on their watch."

In Baltimore County, police have taken the initiative. They hope to develop a closer relationship with the business community -- from large corporations to small family-owned companies. Besides offering training sessions to supervisors, they also will establish a Web site where employees can report workplace concerns.

The program is the first of its kind in the region and, because of that, police are willing to try a variety of approaches.

"There's really no model for us to follow," said Blizzard.

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