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Firm offers recommendations to prevent workplace violence after Virginia Beach shooting


A security risk management firm, Hillard Heintze, provided the Virginia Beach City Council with recommendations on how to prevent workplace violence after a mass shooting by a city employee killed 12 people earlier this year.

“On your behalf, we have been driven by the desire to identify insights and analyses that can help the City of Virginia Beach intervene and prevent acts of targeted violence in the future,” Arnette Heintze, a co-founder of the firm, said during a city council meeting.

The firm provided six key findings and 58 recommendations for future prevention. Heintze said that no city employee, city representative or other stakeholder influenced or tried to influence the findings in the report.

The first key finding was heroic action from police officers and other city employees, which likely prevented further deaths. This included employees trying to help others get to safety.

Secondly, the firm found that the attacker did not display any clear warning signs that could have alerted employees about him being a potential threat.

“The attacker did not display warning or what we call prohibited behaviors associated with individuals who are on a pathway to violence that could have been provided to the City of Virginia Beach or an expert threat assessor with an opportunity to intervene ahead of this act of violence,” Heintze said.

The firm found a few previously unknown risk factors, which included purchasing multiple weapons, purchasing body armor and isolating himself from others. But the firm did not find any evidence that the attacker communicated his plans to anyone, wrote a plan or manifesto or had any mental health problems. The few findings would not have warranted preventive action, according to Heintze.

However, the firm did find that the City of Virginia Beach only had limited workplace violence prevention efforts, including improvements to physical and technical security, critical incident response and the human resources department.

Potential improvement recommendations included installing cameras on all floors (there were no cameras on the upper floors, where the attack happened), installing emergency alert buttons and creating an enterprise-wide physical and technical security plan that has a minimum-security standard for all city buildings.

The firm also recommended that the city create a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. This would include training for specific internal audiences, creating procedures for reporting early warning signs and considering a threat assessment team.

Additionally, the firm recommended that the city overhaul the human resources department. Some suggested changes include a single chain of command reporting directly to HR, hiring standards, background investigations and performance evaluations.

The Virginia Beach shooting led to a lot of conversations about statewide policy to address gun violence in the past year. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam proposed legislation to ban assault weapons, high capacity magazines and silencers as well as expand background checks, institute red flag laws and increase penalties for violating gun laws.

Republican legislators had put those proposals on hold, awaiting input from the Virginia State Crime Commission. The commission’s report did not offer any recommendations, but Republicans lost the majority in the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate to Democrats who have promised to make changes to gun policy in the commonwealth.