Stickups and burglaries are on the rise – in the workplace

By Jim Irvine

A recent Wall Street Journal article, "Stickups and Burglaries are on the Rise – at work" focused on the rise in crime in business locations.

From the story:

Around 6 p.m. on Oct. 27, two men entered a Houston business establishment and robbed the place while holding a pregnant employee at gunpoint. The robbers made off with an estimated $500, plus $50 and a cellphone from Karina Monita, the expectant mother.

"It was really scary," Ms. Monita says. "I was shaking."

The location wasn't a bank or convenience store—cash-heavy businesses that typically attract thieves. It was Don Francisco Insurance & Services, a quiet insurance company that generally keeps little money on hand, according the owner, Francisco Diaz. Local police say the perpetrators, who remain at large, are suspected of robbing at least 29 other insurers in the area since May.

These days thieves are really reaching. As traditional targets for theft have beefed up their security and the recession has driven people to desperate measures, robbers are infiltrating corporate offices. Many of the incidents involve small companies with ground-level offices that offer easy access. And sometimes the perpetrators are armed, heightening fear among office workers who thought their sleepy cubicle farms were safe.

Work is a place most people feel safe. We spend lots of mundane time there. Office buildings tend to be well lit and full of people we know. Visitors are normal considered safe. Many buildings have security cameras and even "security" personnel.

But if your company security is just a person in a suit, or a person with uniform and a badge, don't call him security. Call him a witness. Call him a person who can call for help. Call him run-for-his-life-when-someone-pulls-a-gun. But calling him security is a lie. If someone walks into your building to rob people of their money, belongings and pride, he will not be deterred by man in a pressed shirt.

Many employers have "no guns" policy. Some even make matters worse by posting "no guns" signs on the building. Criminals are not deterred by signs that say, "Don't rob" or "No beatings." But some people have this ludicrous belief that the person who does not obey any of society's laws, will somehow obey a "no guns" sign. What is far more likely is that criminals casing a building see some buildings with "no guns" signs and some without. Criminals would much rather do the shooting than be shot. So the "no guns" sign reads "S A F E T Y" to a criminal. There is a reason we call them "victim zones." Ron Borsch calls them "criminal protection zones.”" No matter what you call them, they scream "choose me" to criminals.

In a poor economy, more people are desperate. Thieves are doing what thieves do – they are looking for an easy and safe target. It is no secret that many homes have guns. Many states have passed "Castle Doctrine" laws and even most anti-gun people understand a victim using a gun to shoot a home invader. But the office is different – and it seems a growing number of criminals have seen the benefit of robbing people in their place of work, rather than at home.

Again from the story:

In the past year, ComPsych Corp., a provider of employee-assistance programs, has seen a 21% increase in the number of requests for crisis counseling at offices that were robbed while employees were present; requests from banks rose 16%.

But the crimes may be more widespread than that since counselors typically are called in only following incidents in which employees' lives were actually threatened, says Richard Chaifetz, chairman and chief executive officer of the Chicago firm, which services more than 11,000 organizations and 29 million workers world-wide.

Note that we are hearing from a Chicago company. Even though Chaifetz deals with all these violent encounters, and he may be excellent at providing after action counseling, he is unable to give reasonable advice on dealing with the actual threat.

Again from the story:

Face to Face With a Thief

Of course, confronting a workplace thief can be dangerous. "The worst thing you can do in a robbery is resist," says Dr. Chaifetz.

Earlier this year, he says, his firm dispatched crisis counselors to an office where an employee was pistol-whipped after trying to talk a gunman out of doing harm. "He had a pretty damaged face because of it," says Dr. Chaifetz.

If you do find yourself face to face with a robber, avoid looking the person in the eye, says Bruce Blythe, chief executive officer of Crisis Management International Inc. of Atlanta. "Keep as much distance as possible," he says.

Keep your distance? In a cubicle? Any room with a closed door? Who are they kidding? If you could leave the area you would not stand around to get pistol-whipped. You don't often hear about a gunman getting pistol-whipped. I don't ever want to be on the receive end of one, so I carry my own gun. I'm not a violent person, but if some criminal dictates that someone in the room is going to be seriously injured, I have the tools to put him on the receiving end.

The BEST thing you can in a violent robbery is resist, with superior firepower. You are not fighting to survive, you are fighting to win. Criminals are cowards. Be aggressive. Make him react to you. This touchy feely nonsense can get you killed. Criminals are not coming into your space with a gun to make requests. They are there making demands. We are not talking about your things; we are taking about your life. No matter what the good doctor advises, I promise you your life is worth fighting for.

Again from the story:

Federal law and most state laws require employers to provide safe workplaces, says Jennifer Rubin, an employment lawyer for Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo P.C. in New York.

In general, worker-compensation laws prohibit employees from suing employers for workplace injuries except in circumstances involving gross negligence or recklessness, she says.

"It's hard to make the connection between employer recklessness and injuries sustained during a robbery," she says.

But even if no employees are hurt during a break-in, the experience can have a lasting impact on a work force, says Debra Holland, a crisis counselor in Los Angeles. Victims often experience symptoms such as anxiety, nightmares and difficulty concentrating for several days.

"People can't go back to work like normal because they've been traumatized," she says.

Employers are required to provide a safe workplace. I would argue (and there is a growing body of evidence to support me) that hanging a "no guns" sign on the building is negligent/reckless. It was once unthinkable to charge a parent with a crime for not providing seatbelts and child seats to children. Today it is generally accepted. It should be the same with a "no guns" policy for most employers. Your right to life is fundamental, as is your right to carry a gun to protect and insure it.

The city of Chicago and many of their residents may choose to ignore this simple fact, but we are hopeful the United States Supreme Court will soon clarify some of this law for them. We will take back our rights – one step at a time.

Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Association Chairman.

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