Workplace violence Federal agencies

Workplaces most common public site of mass attacks, Secret Service report shows

Photo: Bim/iStockphoto

Washington — Building on research in its initial report issued last year, the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center has released its second Mass Attacks in Public Spaces report.

The latest report – published July 9 – examines 27 incidents in 18 states in 2018. In each incident, three or more people were harmed in public spaces. Most occurred in workplaces (20), followed by open spaces (four) – such as a public sidewalk, street or parking lot – and high schools (three).

As it noted in the first report, NTAC again found that attackers were most often “motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic or other issue.” They also had experienced at least one significant stressor, most notably financial instability.

Other findings from the current report:

  • Two-thirds of the attackers had mental health issues, “including depressive, suicidal or psychotic symptoms.”
  • Nearly all attackers experienced at least one significant stressor in the past five years, and more than half had indications of financial instability in that period.
  • Almost all made “threatening or concerning communications,” and more than 75% drew the concern of others around them before the attacks.
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of the attacks lasted five minutes or less. At least one attack occurred in every month but December and on every day of the week, with Wednesday (seven) and Thursday (six) having the highest number of incidents. Sixteen of the incidents occurred between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Among NTAC’s recommendations to help curb these incidents is “a multidisciplinary approach that promotes emotional and mental wellness,” such as an employee assistance program. Some of the signs the attackers exhibited did not indicate they had a mental illness but showed that they were experiencing distress or an emotional struggle, such as persistent anger, an inability to cope with stressful events or increased isolation.

NTAC also notes the importance of reporting concerning behavior to workplace managers, school administrators or law enforcement, as appropriate.

“The violence described in this report is not the result of a single cause or motive,” the report states. “The findings emphasize, however, that we can identify warning signs prior to an act of violence. While not every act of violence will be prevented, this report indicates that targeted violence may be preventable, if appropriate systems are in place to identify concerning behaviors, gather information to assess the risk of violence and utilize community resources to mitigate the risk.”

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