Workplace violence often preceded by red flags

6:40 AM, Oct 1, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Workplace violence isn't sudden, and shooters don't just snap, according to Dr. Kristine Kienlen, a forensic psychologist who says the tragedies typically have warning signs that need to be reported.

Kienlen says most likely, red flags may have been noticed before Andrew Engeldinger opened fire at his workplace, Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis Thursday night, killing five people before himself.

"Often people comment that when these incidents happen, when homicides happen, people just snap. It happens suddenly, there is no way to predict it or prevent it, and what we have learned in the threat assessment field, that is not true," she said.

She specializes in assessing the risk of violence in workplaces and schools, what's known as threat assessment, what she calls an emerging field. She started Minnesota Threat Assessment and Forensic Professionals five years ago and offers  forensic psychological evaluations, taking reports on potentially violent people in companies or at colleges.

Kienlen says the pathway to violence is usually triggered by a grievance or grudge, some sort of perceived wrong, whether someone lost a promotion or their job.

Kienlen is one of the few threat assessment experts in Minnesota, along with detective Sergeant Randy McAlister from Cottage Grove Police Department. He says he studies the emerging field because policing can often be reactive, and threat assessment allows officers to be proactive when detecting violence.

"It follows a pathway, usually there are red flags, the key is getting the position to recognize those red flags and to observe them," said Sgt. McAlister.

Kienlen says warning signs that follow include isolation, threats, bizarre behavior, talking about violence or suicide, assaults or property destruction. It can also include strange cyber activity, losing a temper, bringing weapons to work, or bullying.

She tells employers to proactively develop a clear workplace violence prevention policy, where people feel comfortable reporting concerns to their boss or even police.

"By having a place where the warning signs are reported and the dots can be connected. Kind of since 9-11, people see something at the airport and they report it, we need to have that attitude in the workplace," said Kienlen, who says it's possible to intervene anywhere on the "pathway" to violence.

"Obviously we try to leverage our resources from the law enforcement side with probation, community and mental health services," said Sgt. McAlister.

Other early inventions include counseling for workers in crisis, or sessions for employees to talk about their grievances. Kienlen and McAlister want to shed hope that tools like threat assessment can offer a safety net for the senseless.

"I know specific cases, I know the steps we have taken have prevented homicides," said McAlister.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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