Six Critical Steps to Follow When Domestic Violence Comes to Work

               Scott Dekraai sat on the beach contemplating life – his own, as well as that of his ex-wife.  He was apparently upset over the custody issues with his son and had just lost a court request to change the custody orders.  He was worried, as his son would come home from stays with the ex-wife with bruises.

               Sadly, his meditations led to a series of wrong decisions leaving eight dead and one person in critical condition, Dekraai in police custody and his son in protective care.

               Dekraai got up and went to the hair salon where his ex-wife worked.  He promptly shot and killed her, then shot a co-worker and friend who had helped her through the divorce.  A manager tried to stop Dekraai by charging him with a pair of scissors and he was also shot and killed.

               The suspect continued to fire at others and later told police that they were “collateral damage.”  As he left, he shot another male sitting in his car, as he believed that the victim was an off-duty police officer reaching for a gun.  He later surrendered to police without a fight.

               Fortunately, domestic violence does not always end up at a victim’s workplace in such a deadly manner.  It is, however, common for suspects to search out their victims at work, as that may be the only place they can find the victim.

               After a domestic violence situation, the aggressor is likely going to be taken into custody if any crime has been committed due to mandatory arrest laws.  While the suspect goes to jail, the victim may be offered the chance to move into a safe house or may leave to stay with relatives or friends.

               The suspect will not be in jail forever, perhaps only overnight.  When he (yes, typically he, not she, but not always) gets out, he often wants to get in touch with his wife or girlfriend right away.  If she is in a safe house, he may not have a way to contact her.  But, of course, she will still go to work and he likely knows where that is.  He may have visited frequently, knows how to get in, knows where she parks and knows when she leaves and arrives.

               According to an article in Security Director Report, domestic violence was most likely to happen at the start or end of a victim’s workday, often in the parking lot as they come or go.

               An organization that has employees (and most do) runs a risk of dealing with domestic violence issues at work.  The larger the organization, it is arguably more likely that a victim’s manager or department director will not know about the situation.  If the victim does not tell anyone at work, the business cannot do anything to help look after the victim or others.

               What should be done at the workplace to help the affected employee and protect both them and other colleagues, customers and visitors from a potential attacker?  Fortunately, there are a number of basic steps that any organization should follow to help prevent and respond to violence when it spills over from the home into work.

  1. Encourage employees to share with human resources when they are involved in a domestic violence situation.  The written policy should spell out that the case will be reviewed to assess the best steps to protect everyone exposed.  It also needs to be clear that the company will not hold it against an employee or retaliate against them in any way for reporting the problems.  The policy must address the individual’s privacy while ensuring that the issue is only relayed to those who ‘need to know.’
  2. Take all domestic violence situations seriously.  Even law enforcement takes these types of family disturbances very seriously and understand the great risks and potential for violence.  When responding to a DV call, police will check for past incidents at the address.  Officers understand that these types of calls are extremely dangerous as emotions run very high and they always respond with cover officers.  Jealousy or loss of control over a loved one can push someone to violence very quickly.
  3. Find out if there is a restraining order involved.  Even victims are often confused about whether a restraining order is in place.  Often victims are told that the suspect is not allowed to contact them, but that is due to bond conditions when the suspect gets out of jail.  These stipulate that the bond will be revoked if the suspect contacts the victim, but are different from a restraining order, which is a court order signed up a judge restricting access.  The RO must be served to the suspect if they are not in court.  Get copies of any RO.  This can help facilitate police response if the party does try to contact the victim at work, even by phone, email or through a third party.
  4. Protect the victim.  A few simple steps can help keep the affected employee safe.  Changing their work shift even a half an hour from normal can make it harder for the suspect to catch them in the parking lot or as they come or go from work.  It also makes it more likely that the suspect will attract attention or be seen as suspicious if forced to wait in the area longer.  Moving the victim’s parking area is a great option if available as well.  If not, be sure that they are not going to or from their car alone.  Screen phone calls to limit contact by the suspect.
  5. Review and assess any domestic violence case.  Find out if there are past acts of violence or threats.  Does the suspect have access to weapons?  What do they have to lose if they become violent, meaning are they at wit’s end or feel like they have lost everything?
  6. Involve others.  The victim may not want anyone to know and his or her privacy should be respected.  A few details should be passed on to screeners such as security or lobby personnel to be on the lookout for the suspect.  Ask the victim for a photo and description of the suspect, as well as a vehicle description to help the ‘gatekeepers’ identify the right person.  If the victim wishes to remain private, a general alert can be passed on to keep appropriate personnel alert to suspicious activity or tighten access control measures.

               This is a general overview.  Details need to be adjusted for your specific organization and work environment.  When violence spills over from home into work, it can be very dangerous.  Following these basic steps can help keep everyone safer.

Your biggest risks may not be your biggest worries.  About 33% of small businesses fail after becoming victims of crime.  Ordinary, everyday criminal acts – not high profile terror attacks or disasters. 

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  1. A topic near and dear to my heart...I agree with all above. I found getting security involved (give them a recent photo), parking in a totally different location (usually closer to the building and potentially in a more gated area, if available, can control the ingress and egress of unwanted individuals), and making your co-workers aware of your situation works best. Setting aside pride for the safety of your life is essential.
    There was a female nurse in a hospital in NC where I worked who had a restraining order on her ex-husband. Her fellow co-workers discouraged her from carrying any sort of weapon other than "a whistle" and she felt the restraining order was enough to keep him away that she didn't involve security to escort her to and from her vehicle. She died, murdered, in the parking lot after her shift...her whistle, still in her mouth pooling with blood. Horrifying.

  2. Tragic story, but sadly one that can and will be repeated unless individuals and the companies that they work for take DV seriously and treat it like the deadly threat that it can be.

  3. Thank you for sharing this article, very well written and thought out.

    matt stevenson, CPP