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In the spring of 2019 Virginia Beach suffered a sadly familiar outbreak of workplace violence:
Craddock, who had worked for nine years at the city, began May 31, a Friday, in routine fashion: He arrived at the municipal center at 7:16 a.m., went to his desk and checked his email. In hindsight, the first clue of what lay ahead that day came about 10 a.m., when Craddock conducted Web searches for maps of Building 2 and the municipal center. At 10:31 a.m., Craddock, 40, emailed an unremarkable resignation letter to his bosses. One of them accepted it 15 minutes later … informing Craddock when his last day would be.
In the afternoon he visited several job sites with two of his co-workers, police said, arriving back at the office shortly before 3:30 p.m. At 3:55 p.m. — minutes before he began shooting — Craddock sent a job-related email.
Then, as the workweek neared its end, Craddock armed himself at his car with a pair of .45-caliber handguns, at least one equipped with a sound suppressor and extended magazine.
Craddock returned to the office and began firing indiscriminately. He murdered 12 people, injured four others, and was himself killed.
“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” Mayor Bobby Dyer began, speaking at a news conference that evening. He then trailed off, at a loss for words.
Warning Signs Abound, Even As Motivations Remain Foggy
Joe Delia, U.S. Security Consulting Services for GardaWorld, has decades of law enforcement experience. He explains, “Law enforcement, they do a pretty good job reconstructing an event afterward. What they tend to find out is one person knew that John was struggling at home. Another person knew that John was talking about suicide. Another person knew John was drinking too much. And another person knew John had started carrying a gun.” The warning signs are all there, “But nobody tells anybody.”
Even after months of investigation, we still don’t entirely understand the Virginia Beach attack. Investigators seem to have found that warning signs were present, if sparse.
[T]hus far found no evidence Craddock endured financial stressors or health problems or that he had sought mental-health treatment. They found no documentation of threatening encounters or physical altercations with his co-workers.
“He was actually described by many that we interviewed as quiet, polite, a nice guy and a good listener,” [Deputy Chief Patrick L.] Gallagher said, a comment that elicited scoffs from some victims’ family members.
Hired as an engineer in 2010, Craddock received satisfactory evaluations from his supervisors until 2017 — the same year of his divorce — when he was placed on a “performance improvement plan,” police said. In 2018 he received a written reprimand from a supervisor for his job performance and was given an “Improvement Required” evaluation, police said.
After his divorce, Craddock had become isolated from his family … . Relatives described him as “introverted,” “paranoid” and “uncomfortable around people.” He owned five guns, all purchased legally, and had ordered body armor that didn’t arrive in time for the shooting.
Targeted Violence in the American Workplace
As we regularly point out, in general, violent crime is down in America. In many regards, we are safer every day. But in some pockets, violence—often extreme violence—has increased. And often, this is targeted violence: attacks aimed at specific groups or individuals and driven by non-economic factors (such as ideology, politics, family and domestic issues, workplace disputes, etc.)
In contrast to armed robbery, targeted violence is much harder to deter. Someone desperate for money goes for the easiest target with the highest payout. If they see that a convenience store has a bulletproof barrier in place, they go down the street to the next store.
A terminated employee who has decided that violence is the answer isn’t going to be satisfied going into some other office and yelling at someone else’s boss. They are laser-focused on their former employer, on the manager or HR representative who they feel wronged them. They’re going to return to the site of their frustration, start shooting, and keep doing so until they get to the person they believe “has it coming.”
We’re often quick to attribute this to “mental health” issues. Delia, who has a great deal of experience with workplace violence, is hesitant to do so. These acts are almost always premeditated long in advance. “This is targeted violence,” Delia emphasizes. “Somebody is mad at somebody specific, has a complaint, has been through a divorce, lost a job. … It’s more than mental health.”
Unfortunately, city offices sit at the overlap of almost every possible motivation for targeted violence.
Workplace Violence—Especially Targeting Women—at Municipal Offices
City offices sit at an unfortunate overlap when it comes to workplace violence, facing serious internal and external threats.
First and foremost, municipal offices represent the government and authority, making them generic targets for ideological violence at both extremes. Additionally, the local government is regularly responsible for many extremely upsetting life events. These include divorce, eviction, incarceration of a family member, loss of child custody, and so on.
On top of that, city offices are workplaces. The workplace is filled with stressful interactions (poor evaluations, management disputes, customer service tantrums, office arguments, etc.). It’s the single location where most Americans spend most of their waking hours—and subsequently, the place where most mass shootings happen.
This is compounded by the fact that many government employees are women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 47% of the U.S. workforce is female. Meanwhile, roughly 77% of “Court, municipal, and license clerks” are female, and 80% of “Eligibility interviewers, government programs” are women.
Murder is, in many years, the leading cause of on-the-job fatality for women. Even though men are about 10 times more likely to die on the job in general, women are murdered on the job roughly 3 times more often than men—a startling reversal.
This brings us back to a key issue Delia raised with “foreseeability” (and liability) for workplace violence. “The leading cause of death in the workplace for women is homicide. You have to ask yourself if you have security issues and a largely female population, are you providing them the level of security they deserve? They are more likely to be victimized.”
Preventing and Mitigating Workplace Violence at City Offices
But are municipalities and city offices taking workplace violence seriously enough?
“We’ve seen growth here,” explains Jim Richards, CEO of Total Security Solutions. “But I don’t think it’s the same as what we’ve seen in corporate security. Compared to corporate, which has developed so much in the past couple of years, municipal is still lagging. In part, that’s because they were already more secure: corporate offices have had to level up to Level 3 and 4 ballistic materials. That’s what city offices were already using to protect people. Now, we are seeing some Level 8 materials” designed to stop bullets from tactical and assault rifles. “Maybe an especially exposed transaction window, for example, will get that treatment. But in general city offices are still finding Level 3 and 4 sufficient.”
What has changed?
The quality of material and construction. “They’ve begun to seek out a higher level of design and build quality. In the past, they might rely on local glaziers or their regular contractors. Now they’re reaching out to companies like us. In the end, that means they are getting a safer system: more seamless, each component working with the others, so it looks good and works smoothly. That always translates to better security, because you don’t have people compromising the barrier because it’s getting in the way of getting work done.”