December 18, 2018

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Lockdowns at schools and businesses reward perpetrators: expert

Businesses and schools need to resist the urge to shut down in the face of “generalized, non-specific threats,” a U.S.-based expert who has spent more than 25 years studying workplace and school violence says.

Steve Albrecht, a former police officer and certified threat manager, internationally known for his training and consulting work, said while threats can shake any place of business or education, it is exceedingly rare for them to lead to violence.

And when institutions buckle under their weight and shut down, it rewards the perpetrator and reinforces the behaviour.

“What we don’t want to do is empower these people to shut down the school. People who carry out these kinds of acts don’t broadcast it first. And if they do mention it, it’s going to be a threat made to a third party, not the actual target,” Albrecht said Wednesday.

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Businesses and schools need to resist the urge to shut down in the face of "generalized, non-specific threats," a U.S.-based expert who has spent more than 25 years studying workplace and school violence says.

Steve Albrecht, a former police officer and certified threat manager, internationally known for his training and consulting work, said while threats can shake any place of business or education, it is exceedingly rare for them to lead to violence.

Great-West Life employees were told not to come to work Wednesday through an automated message, although some staff didn't get the message in time and were turned away at the door.

(MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Great-West Life employees were told not to come to work Wednesday through an automated message, although some staff didn't get the message in time and were turned away at the door.

And when institutions buckle under their weight and shut down, it rewards the perpetrator and reinforces the behaviour.

"What we don’t want to do is empower these people to shut down the school. People who carry out these kinds of acts don’t broadcast it first. And if they do mention it, it’s going to be a threat made to a third party, not the actual target," Albrecht said Wednesday.

"School administrators, business owners, principals, police, they want to err on the side of caution, which is understandable, but it’s not the right approach. When we shut down the school, we give these people what they want: disruption."

On Wednesday, Great-West Life Assurance Company temporarily shut down five buildings in Winnipeg, forcing 5,000 local employees to stay home from work, after threats were made against the insurance giant.

The move came on the heels of a recent string of incidents that resulted in class cancellations and lockdowns for the 15 schools in the Lord Selkirk School Division this week.

Albrecht said while his advice might sound counter-intuitive to many, it’s backed up by decades of research and data.

"We have a model called hunters versus howlers. Howlers howl — they want to be provocative and stir things up. Hunters want to harm people, and the last thing they’re going to want to do is warn the target," he said.

"Hunters use camouflage. They use stealth. They don’t come in and make a lot of noise. And they are the people we need to be worried about."

'School administrators, business owners, principals, police, they want to err on the side of caution, which is understandable, but it’s not the right approach. When we shut down the school, we give these people what they want: disruption' – Steve Albrecht, a former police officer and certified threat manager

Albrecht said it’s not that he doesn’t take threats seriously. He believes police should aggressive pursue anyone who threatens a workplace or school.

However, he believes strongly the proper response isn’t to shut down, pointing to the fact "generalized, non-specific threats" are almost never followed by actual violence.

Winnipeg police were first notified of a threat made against Great-West Lifeco in the early morning hours Wednesday. Its building at 100 Osborne St. was subsequently searched and cleared by police.

After police left, however, another threat was reportedly made against the company. It was then Great-West Lifeco decided to shut down operations for the day. Police were also contacted to carry out another search.

Meanwhile, Lord Selkirk School Division implemented new security measures Wednesday, in response to the recent string of threats made against its schools on social media.

Until further notice, the school division plans to lock all exterior doors at its buildings from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The recent incidents, which have reportedly left some students shaken, began Sunday night when threats against the Selkirk high school surfaced online. Three people were subsequently arrested, and two ultimately charged.

As a precaution, the school division kept all of its schools closed Monday.

The schools reopened for classes Tuesday. However, one of the earlier online threats was reshared online, sparking new fears and leading to a division-wide "hold and secure" lockdown. RCMP later determined there was no new threat.

On Nov. 20, nearly 1,700 students from Kelvin High School and Brock Corydon School in Winnipeg were cleared from the buildings due to bomb threats. In both cases, the threats proved to be unfounded.

On Oct. 18, a bomb threat led to the evacuation of Churchill High School in Winnipeg. The incident landed a 14-year-old boy in handcuffs and facing two criminal charges.

Albrecht said while he understands the administrative responses in these cases, they’re ultimately mistaken.

"The right approach is to figure out who is making these threats, interview as many people as you can about what they’re hearing, and focus on certain people who rise up in the investigation," he said. "You investigate harder and you can also do things to reassure people: let parents know you’re taking this seriously, park a cop car in front of the school, tighten security policies, set up a tip line.

"What you don’t do is overreact — because then the perpetrator succeeds and what you’re going to get is more of the same behaviour."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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