Waco: Behaviors could presage workplace violence, psychologist says

Published: Sep. 3, 2019 at 4:41 PM CDT
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A Waco psychologist says there are red flags that could signal a potential for violence in the workplace, but most training on how to respond to active-shooter situations doesn’t include them.

“There are red flags you can identify and look for,” said Dr. William Lee Carter, a Waco psychologist who routinely works with courts, prosecutors and police on cases that might involve a suspect with a mental or behavioral disability.

For the most part police have systems in place to teach people how to survive a mass casualty event when one happens, “but that only after the shooting has started,” Lacy Lakeview police Chief John Truehitt said.

McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said his deputies will hold seminars and classes for businesses to train employees how to respond to an active shooting situation, how to hide and what to do, but they don’t include training on how to spot a potentially violent person.

“We probably should have training like that, but we don’t have any right now,” he said.

“We (police) are trained to spot tendencies, that’s our world,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.

But he said that training doesn’t or at least hasn’t, extended to the public.

Robinson police Chief Bernie Prasifka said while he’s not aware of any specific training on spotting workplace violence potential, “It would seem to come down to some common sense.

Such training, he said, likely would be beneficial: “I think that’s a big discussion we ought to have.”

The man who attacked both civilians and police in Midland/Odessa was denied the legal purchase of a weapon, investigation has shown, but the background check he failed “isn’t really a background check at all,” Truehitt said.

“What it amounts to is a simple criminal case history and has no detail about that person’s background or mental stability,” Truehitt said.

Carter said there are definite red flags.

“Things that always concern me are imperative thinking, like holding very strong opinions about something, an unwillingness to listen to others’ viewpoints and always insisting that, regardless of the situation, they are right and everyone else is wrong,” Carter said.

Also: “a lack of empathy for others. Those simple can’t display any empathy or concern for others and are overly self-focused.

Carter went on to say anyone with anger issues, whether rooted in the workplace or somewhere else, especially if that person has a history of encounters with law enforcement, especially if aggression was a problem.

Carter said interaction between employees can defuse such a situation, but those with such issues can be hard to reach.

The expression in the workplace can be very different from the one shown at home, Carter said.

“It’s important to defuse a situation before it escalates,” Carter said.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as making that person feel like you truly care about them and are willing to listen to them.

“Don’t judge, it won’t help,” Carter said.

Carter deals frequently with individuals who display such behavior.

“I see about 100 a year in the county jail to determine if that person is competent to stand trial or needs additional mental intervention,” Carter said.

If potential can be recognized and intervention can take place, “it can prevent an explosive event from happening,” but left unchecked it can become what Carter called “malignant narcissism and that’s always trouble.

Carter said if you see something that troubles you, “rather than sit around and gossip about, share it with someone.