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VOL. 122 | NO. 87 | Friday, May 11, 2007

Shooting Incidents Can Happen At Businesses, Too

By Eric Smith

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"What we tell people is, first of all, vigilance is the single-most important thing that businesses can do in order to stay safe. It's really an extension of the old adage that if you feel like something is out of the ordinary or suspicious, it probably is. We find that people's intuition is generally very good."
- Mike Heidingsfield
President and CEO of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission

Editor's Note: This is the last in a series examining the Virginia Tech killing spree and its effects in Memphis.

Decked in sunglasses and security uniform, a .45-caliber handgun at his side, Charles Strickland stands watch on the southeast corner of Second Street and Jefferson Avenue in Downtown Memphis.

He looks for odd - and potentially dangerous ­- situations.

That could mean someone wearing a trench coat in hot weather. Or people carrying big bags that seem unusually heavy. Maybe someone in a stocking cap and dark glasses. Anyone sitting in their car for two or three hours in one spot just watching.

"There's a lot of telltale signs you can look for," he said.

Strickland, 52, should know. He has been serving and protecting people for 30 years, first as a police officer and then as a security guard. He worked the casinos in Tunica for seven years, and now he works for Memphis-based Security One outside the Regions Bank branch at 147 Jefferson Ave.

So he speaks from experience when discussing how last month's shootings at Virginia Tech did nothing to raise awareness of the need for heightened security in most businesses.

"People are not going to change anything until it gets to the point of the crime actually happening to them," Strickland said. "That's never changed, and it never will."

A burden of apathy

And that surprises Mike Heidingsfield, the president and CEO of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission.

Heidingsfield, frankly, can't believe business owners haven't been clamoring for more information and advice on how to protect their employees and customers.

Even if the April 16 Virginia Tech massacre - in which student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 others before killing himself - didn't spark interest, Heidingsfield figured the April 29 shooting at a mall in Kansas City, Mo., in which a man killed two people before turning the gun on himself, would open the eyes of business owners about their vulnerabilities.

"We haven't heard anything," Heidingsfield said.

Business owners polled for this story were reluctant to talk about their companies' safety and security measures, but Heidingsfield offered plenty of tips for anyone who might have concerns about how well they can protect their employees and customers.

"What we tell people is, first of all, vigilance is the single-most important thing that businesses can do in order to stay safe," Heidingsfield said. "It's really an extension of the old adage that if you feel like something is out of the ordinary or suspicious, it probably is. We find that people's intuition is generally very good."

After that, Heidingsfield said, it's important to prohibit firearms on the premises, monitor and control entrances, exits and parking areas, and use video technology with signs telling everyone - whether their intentions are good or bad - that the area is under surveillance.

Last, Heidingsfield recommends security guards, if feasible.

"If you have highly trained security force personnel in uniform," he said, "I think it will make a difference."

Knee-jerk responsiveness

Shooting rampages get all the press and hype. But there are many more common threats of violence to a business - not just the lone, crazed gunman walking into a building and opening fire.

Those threats range from a fistfight between coworkers to a convenience-store robbery. Because of these and more, Steve Kaufer and Jurg Mattman founded the Workplace Violence Research Institute in 1992.

The Palm Springs, Calif.-based Institute assesses companies' workplace-violence prevention programs, advises them on how to improve and also offers training.

When reached by phone in California this week, Kaufer said establishing a workplace-violence prevention program doesn't take much work; often it starts with examining basic company policies such as those prohibiting harassment, intimidation or bringing a weapon to work.

Beyond that, it's important for an employer to intervene in any kind of dispute early, before it becomes something far worse.

"Workplace violence generally starts really small," Kaufer said. "It starts as a conflict between two employees or a conflict between a manager and an employee, and if it's not resolved, it's not like a fine wine - it doesn't get better with age; it gets worse. So if an employer can intervene early and resolve it, then the likelihood of it escalating is very small."

Kaufer said his business does see a rise in awareness whenever a high-profile workplace shooting occurs, but he laments that it takes such an incident to get businesses to examine their safety and security measures.

"Unfortunately, in the United States, we're kind of reactionary," he said. "We often don't plan in a proactive manner. We more often react when something like this happens."

Shepherd and his sheep

Strickland smiles at passersby, holding the door for customers shuffling in and out of the bank, all while keeping an eye on pedestrians and vehicles. Then he talks about the need for consistency of security personnel.

"Any business, I don't care what it is - McDonald's or whatever - if you're going to put security there, you want the same guard at all times," Strickland said. "He knows what's going on and he knows the people going in, especially in banks."

In Strickland's case, because he works four 10-hour shifts, a different guard has the corner duty one day each week. But he said the company tries to keep the same guard rotating into that shift.

Most important, the business he's guarding has implemented measures to protect its employees and customers. That gives it an advantage over companies that haven't.

"As long as somebody sees security on property, they feel a little more comfortable," Strickland said. "People will walk in and out of the bank and say, 'Man, I'm glad you're out here.'"

PROPERTY SALES 38 38 12,796
MORTGAGES 27 27 8,030
BUILDING PERMITS 135 135 30,069