76 of 100 DOCUMENTS

	The Boston Herald

	December 31, 2000 Sunday ALL EDITIONS

	FORUM; Op-Ed; Office safety under fire; Workplace homicides are still rare

	BYLINE: By James FOX and Jack LEVIN


	LENGTH: 956 words

	A cloud of sadness and anxiety hangs over the Boston area in the
	aftermath of last Tuesday's tragic shooting at a Wakefield office
	building that claimed the lives of seven employees of Edgewater

	The carnage, larger in body count than any rampage in
	Massachusetts history, has put a damper on the holiday season, not
	just for those who knew the victims but for thousands of others
	whose sense of safety and security has been rudely shaken.

	After all, Edgewater Technology was essentially no different than
	most of the businesses that surround the city. If terror could
	strike there, it could strike anywhere, and at any time, even the
	day after Christmas.

	The fear arising out of the Wakefield bloodbath has been
	heightened by disturbing news reports - in both print and
	electronic media - about some alarming statistics on workplace
	violence and chilling descriptions of the typical profile of
	workplace avengers.

	As fast as the Internet could carry them, figures from the Bureau
	of Labor Statistics were downloaded, e-mailed, faxed, and
	broadcast widely, suggesting that as many as 1,000 American
	workers are murdered each year on the job, usually by gunfire. In
	addition, it was reported that workplace violence is now the
	second leading cause of employment-related fatalities.
	The message was painfully clear: You had better watch out, because
	the next mass murderer may be working in your office.

	A better understanding of these workplace murder rates is sorely
	The vast majority of the incidents involve robberies - taxicab
	oldups, convenience store stickups and assaults upon police and
	security officers. Many others stem from domestic disputes that
	spill over into the office suite. The least common form of
	workplace homicide, claiming fewer than 100 victims per year, are
	the murderous acts of disgruntled employees and ex-employees
	seeking revenge over work-related issues.

	The term "epidemic," which has been used to describe the problem
	of workplace violence and murder, is more hyperbole than reality.

	By no means do we wish, of course, to trivialize or deny the pain
	and suffering of the Wakefield seven or their friends and
	families. The devastation is unfathomable. Yet we also need to
	keep in perspective the level of risk.

	The few dozen people slain each year at the hands of
	embittered employees are a tiny fraction of the millions of
	Americans who apparently put their lives on the line every day at
	the office. Actually, the likelihood of becoming a victim is
	literally less than one in a million. In fact, American workers
	are far more likely to be killed while commuting to the job in a
	highway pileup than to be gunned down by the seemingly quiet guy
	at the next desk.

	If we lived in California, Florida or Texas, rather than
	Massachusetts, there might be something more to worry about at the
	office. These sunbelt states have more than their share of mass
	killings; they also have large numbers of transients, newcomers
	and migrants - rootless individuals who may have relocated
	hundreds if not thousands of miles from home for a new beginning
	or a last resort. Unfortunately, when times get tough, they no
	longer have friends and family around to offer support and
	encouragement. Getting even with an AK-47 or an AK-47 lookalike
	may seem to them like the only way out of a hopeless situation.

	Whatever the risk to the work force in the Boston region, many of
	us are concerned because Michael McDermott, the odd and reclusive
	man charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, is not all
	that different from countless others who labor in office buildings
	around the area.

	McDermott has been described as "bookish," a geek who spent all of
	his time behind a computer monitor. But is he so unlike many
	others we encounter who pound keyboards from 9 to 5, day after

	With indications of a recession on the horizon, concerns about
	corporate downsizing, company layoffs, bankruptcies and factory
	closings may increase the level of stress and despair in the
	American workplace. How then can we protect ourselves against the
	possibility that more beleaguered workers will turn their offices
	into battle zones? 
	Whatever steps we take to combat workplace violence should not be
	driven by hysteria, especially in the immediate aftermath of a
	tragedy. We must come to terms with the small risk of workplace
	murder in the same way we tolerate the occasional deaths from
	plane crashes or tornadoes. As with other catastrophes, we should
	react in a sound and rational way to the Wakefield tragedy.

	One lesson is that we all need to make greater efforts to reach
	out to co-workers and neighbors in order to combat the true
	epidemic of loneliness and isolation.

	Of course, we could conceivably reduce the risk of workplace
	homicide down virtually to zero through some draconian measures:
	by transforming office buildings into tightly secured fortresses,
	with metal detectors and surveillance cameras at all entrances; by
	requiring intensive psychological screening of all job recruits
	including polygraph tests; by scanning the computer files of all
	employees in search of violent Internet downloads; by locking up
	all workers who look or act unusual or who lack social skills as
	well as close friends; and, finally, by strictly prohibiting
	private ownership of all guns. We're not about to do any of these
	things because we value our personal freedoms. They need to be
	protected as much as life itself.

	James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice
	and Jack Levin is the Brudnick Professor of Sociology and
	Criminology, both at Northeastern University. They are co-authors
	of the forthcoming book, "The Will to Kill: Making Sense of
	Senseless Murder."

	LOAD-DATE: December 31, 2000


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