Why Do Workplace Violence Programs Fail to Prevent Workplace Violence? The Problem and Solution!

Workplace Violence Prevention program too often fail their purpose of “prevention.”  Too often that are merely plans to react to workplace violence, which is ineffective, irresponsible and indefensible. Why? Because from the Moment of Commitment (when a shooter begins firing) to the Moment of Completion (when the last round it discharged) can be as little as 5 seconds! Any organization whose intent is to react to workplace violence (i.e., Crisis Management) will do so over those slain during the first 5 seconds! Crisis Management alone, without a solid plan to prevent workplace violence, is not effective, responsible nor defensible.


The following are eight of the most salient impediments to “preventing” Workplace Violence, but don’t worry, I will, at the end, illustrate the means to solve them and provide CUNY the means to prevent this destructive behavior in the future.


The first impediment to prevention is that we refer to the subject of workplace violence as “workplace violence.”  Let me illustrate by using “conflict resolution.”  The problem with “conflict resolution” is that it presupposes conflict.  We are not preventing conflict; we are reacting to conflict, after the fact.  The same circumstances apply with the issues of “bullying” and “workplace violence,” because these terms refer to someone exhibiting bullying or violent behavior, we are reacting to bullying and violence not preventing them. This was profoundly illustrated when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) decided to address the subject of “discrimination.” EEOC required employers to train their employees in identifying and reporting acts of “discrimination” without offering true methods of prevention.  Consequently, in the past five years reported acts of discrimination have skyrocketed, not diminished.  There are rear exceptions when individuals report anticipated violence but these are the exceptions not the rule.  Don’t worry though, I will illustrate how to get-out-in-front-of (precursors) these acts of aggression and prevent them.


The second impediment to prevention is the “culture of reporting.”  We would hope by illustrating a means of reporting to our staff, faculty and students, that they would report incidents prior to actual violence.  In a rare case they do, but typically humans will do what they believe as in their best interest; and most often that means they will remain quiet in these matters for fear of reprisal or simply a lack of interest.


The third impediment to prevention is the use of “anger” as a means of measuring the potential of violence.  The greater issue with “anger” is that you and I can experience and express anger differently.  It is very difficult the measure and therefore very difficult and manage (too sophisticated for most to use effectively).  Furthermore, I contend that “anger management” is a misnomer. It is okay to be “angry,” it is not okay to be “aggressive.” What’s more, we can measure “aggression” and therefore better instruct people to manage “aggressive” behavior maximizing our results; an easily trained and utilized method of measuring, preventing, diffusing or mitigating aggression in ourselves and others.


The fourth impediment to prevention is the use of “warning signs” of violence described with phrases too sophisticated for users to apply effectively, like the “Inability to control feelings.”  This type of phrase describes at least 50% of all students.  Furthermore, when it is announced that a Behavioral Intervention Team is in place to address issues of “suspicious behavior” too often we get very subjective references like “scary, strange, weird, etc.” Since each of the sightings must be “fully investigated” lest the institution be held liable, these investigations can quickly overwhelm a Behavioral Intervention Team.


The fifth impediment to prevention is the belief the violence can be predicted through investigating “mental illness.”  The Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy clearly states, “Most people who are violent do not have a mental illness, and most people who have mental illness are not violent.”  “Those with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence, not perpetrators.” In fact, according to U.S. News, August 20, 2009, Virginia Tech’s staff evaluated Seung-Hui Cho more than a year before he killed 32 people and wounding 25 others in that fateful 2007 rampage.  In three separate interactions with the school’s counseling center at the end of 2005, the staff found the Virginia Tech killer, Mr. Cho, to be depressed and anxious but not at risk of hurting himself or others.  Furthermore, we have too often found that mental health counseling centers are spread dangerously thin, counselors with already heavy case loads are being asked to take on additional mental health issues; such as suicidal students, social skill training, and outreach program development.  


The sixth impediment to prevention is the belief that Campus Police will prevent the next violent incident.  Campus police may have a conversation with any student, faculty, staff or visitor, however, they may not pursue any chain of circumstances or evidence unless the circumstances rise to a level of Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause, lest they put themselves and CUNY at greater risk of liability.


The seventh impediment to prevention is the confusion due to the lack of a common reference describing aggressive behavior.  Campus police and law enforcement use “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause,” whereas mental health counselors use “distressed, disturbed and dysregulated,” and further, Student Affairs professionals use “gut instinct” as means to identify aggressive individuals on campus.  Realizing that most individuals will not put their reputations or their jobs on the line based upon instinct or intuition alone it is likely that nothing will be said until after the fact.  This lack of common references, specific to “aggression,” leaves enormous gaps that potentially violence individuals can easily walk through.


The final and most daunting is the eighth impediment to prevention, which is distinguishing between simple aberrant, disruptive and aggressive (threatening) behavior. When in fear of potential violence, we often react to simple aberrant or disruptive behavior with too heavy a hand and put ourselves at risk of liability or public outcry.  By isolating “aggressive” behavior specifically, we permit the appropriate departments to address the more benign aberrant and disruptive behaviors.  When we isolate “aggressive” behavior specifically, this behavior jumps out at us, permitting us to address aggressive/threatening behavior with all the appropriate resources well before a violent act occurs. 



As CUNY truly wishes to prevent workplace violence, I suggest the purchase of the Campus Aggression Prevention System (CAPS), which provides a practical, scalable and affordable approach that focuses strictly on aggression-specific behavior (solution to fourth impediment) to make a safer campus.  As exemplified by the shooting at Fort Hood, when observers rely on subjective references of culture and mental illness, they miss the clear objective and culturally-neutral signs specific to aggression thereby missing the opportunity to prevent violent encounters.

  1. The CAPS Solution has the following attributes:

  1. Easily taught and readily learned objective observables of emerging aggression

  2. The Meter of Emerging Aggression which provides measurable quantifiable markers that provide the basis for an objective way to identify emerging aggression (precursors) and prevent it before a serious threat or crisis occurs (Solutions to the First and Third Impediment).

  3. Timely communications between trained personnel in a system which records aggressive activity over time and enables early precursor-identification (Solutions to the First Impediment), thereby permitting timely intervention to prevent, not react after the fact.

  4. A forensic process with longitudinal tracking that, through the use of neutral and quantitative observables, more readily lends itself to legal defensibility than current approaches

  5. Utilizes objective, culturally neutral, and common language (denominator) references that all professionals can use (Solutions to the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Impediment). 

  6. Because individuals tend to act upon their own behalf, once they learn the ability to foresee (precursors) aggression coming (Meter of Emerging Aggression) and realize that they will likely become a victim, they now have the motivation to get involved (Solution to the Second Impediment).

2.      How Is This Achieved? — There are Three Components to the Campus Aggression Prevention System (CAPS)

    1. First Observers (FOs) who are trained to provide campus-wide eyes and ears in order to identify potential aggressors.  These Observers apply learned objective indicators to measure emerging human aggression.  The use of objective indicators avoids both the stereotyping of individuals and prevents an overwhelming number of subjective sightings, which must be investigated. FOs include, faculty members, current frontline security personnel, residential supervisors (RAs), facility managers, student affairs staff and other personnel who are already in positions to observe and report.

    2. A software-based platform known as the Meter of Emerging Aggression™ records and tracks the measurable indicators that are observed by the First Observers.  The software provides a Meter of Emerging Aggression Dropdown Tool of objective indicators and a recording mechanism for FOs to chronicle the indicators observed. It also records what the third component − the Qualified Responders (QRs) − observes upon engagement, how they respond, and the result of their engagement.  The software makes the process highly objective because it utilizes scientific “cause and effect” principles and therefore provides a higher level of safety as well as legal defensibility.

      The Meter of Emerging Aggression also has the capacity for longitudinal tracking of an individual’s behaviors over time, permitting CUNY to track emerging aggressive behavior across departments, offices and venues, elements egregiously absent prior to the shootings at VT and NIU.  If necessary, this longitudinal tracking can be maintained on campus property.

    3. Qualified Responders, typically members of Behavioral Intervention Teams who are CAPS trained and certified.  These participants learn how to

  1. Evaluate the information made available by the First Observers

  2. Objectively assess the level of hostile intent and therefore the threat posed by the declared observables through the use of the Meter of Emerging AggressioN

  3. Decide what action(s), if any, is to be taken

  4. Approach the perceived potential aggressor using established and tested methodologies

  5. Engage this aggressor with all needed resources

  6. Get-out-in-front of an aggressor’s Moment of Commitment, thereby providing an opportunity to prevent  a violent incident

Upon completion of the intervention, the QR members can record their engagement and results, demonstrating the use of scientific “cause and effect” principles within CAPS’s Meter of Emerging Aggression.  This helps QR members remain objective, which places them on a path to legal defensibility and offers an extra measure of protection for students, faculty, and staff in any institution.

The CAPS Solution is based on years of research into aggressive behavior, and the recognition that practical tools to identify, measure, and assess specifically emerging human aggression were necessary. As a result, CAPS is the most effective system for achieving maximum school campus safety and security in a practical, scalable and affordable way.

An Example of CAPS at work in
on a School Campus

An individual is walking across a school campus. A member of the First Observers (FOs) – and there are many on campus – using “objective and measurable” indicators, witnesses some of their learned observables that illustrate this individual might be a potential aggressor. CAPS provides specific body language, behavioral and communication observables that can identify one of five levels of risk from “mild” to “extreme”. This is shown in the CAPS Meter of Emerging Aggression Dropdown Tool on the right starting with “mild” illustrated on the gauge as green through “extreme” illustrated in red. The CAPS-trained First Observer (FO), immediately relays this information by cell phone to an on duty Qualified Responder (QR).  These objective observables are recorded on the Objective Recording System’s CAPS Meter of Emerging Aggression Dropdown Tool shown in the graphic as Behavior, Communication, Interaction, Demeanor, Facial Expression, Movement, Clothing and Articles. These provide an accurate measurement of emerging aggression and the level of hostile intent, and thereby the threat posed by this aggressor. One or more “on-duty” Qualified Responders (QRs) can then objectively evaluate the level of hostile intent and decide whether to take action, and if so, what action. These Qualified Responders can ask First Observers for more information before arriving at a course of action, which ranges from no action to a variety of interventions, including the arrest of an alleged aggressor who rises to law enforcement’s threshold of “probable cause”. Upon completion of their engagement with the alleged aggressor, the QR members can record their interview and results demonstrating the use of scientific “cause and effect” principles within CAPS’s Meter of Emerging Aggression


The same process is followed in classrooms, administrative offices, cafeterias, school sporting events, etc. – wherever an aggressive action can occur.  The goal of the CAPS process is to prevent violence and aggression in most any form, through the identification of the potential aggressor and timely intervention by certified personnel.


Make your school campus safer by contacting John Byrnes, Founder and CEO, Center for Aggression Management for more information about CAPS (Campus Aggression Prevention System) by phone at 407-718-5637, or by email at JohnByrnes@AggressionManagement.com or visit www.AggressionManagement.com.


  1. I appreciate how detailed your program is. As a teacher in a community college, I see incidents of stalking and other threatening behavior almost weekly. Yet we have no systems in place beyond lockdown in the event of a violent attack.
    It is, as you say, irresponsible and indefensible. I will forward this website address to the regent with my encouragement to consider your program.

  2. John D Byrnes

    Thank you for your kind words.  If I can be of any help have your Regent contact us directly and we can deliver any details they may need to concider our methods and making campuses measurably safer.  Once again, thank you and Happy New Year!

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  7. John,
    My book is very focused on “prevention” and thus would like to speak with you or interview you briefly for the book, Stop Bullying Now.
    Let me know when is good for you. I speak on cyberbullying on Wednesday and will be at the conference on Monday and Tuesday as well so Saturday or next Thursday might be best.
    Looking forward,

  8. This CAPS system does sound interesting and is a different approach to prevent workplace violence. I think with such a system in place, it will help to reduce unnecessary workplace violence. Yet, since the implementation of the programme is by human beings, which we know are subjective in nature, how can such human judgment be trusted? I think different people may even measure / observe the different indicators slightly differently. Nevertheless, even though such human errors do exist, I believe this system is a start to better prevent workplace violence.

  9. John D. Byrnes

    Thank you, Michiel , for you thoughtful evaluation.  Your concerns about human perception are valid.  There are “facts” and then there are “truths;” Truths are our perception of the facts.  This is why we focus on “objective observables,” the reflections of emerging aggressive behavior in body language, behavior and communication indicators that relate to all humans regardless of culture, gender, education, age or position in a community.  We follow these observations with the “Judicious Interview,” which uses scientific cause and effect principles to determine whether the intent of this individual is hostile, malicious or benign.  There is no absolute perfect system but ours is a quantum leap ahead of any other program in the market.

  10. This CAPS system does sound interesting and is a different approach to prevent workplace violence. I think with such a system in place, it will help to reduce unnecessary workplace violence. Yet, since the implementation of the programme is by human beings, which we know are subjective in nature, how can such human judgment be trusted? I think different people may even measure / observe the different indicators slightly differently. Nevertheless, even though such human errors do exist, I believe this system is a start to better prevent workplace violence.

  11. John D. Byrnes

    Thank you, Micheil for your insightful comments.  Although it is true that humans can be very subjective it is our objective to offer them “objective observables.”  These are predicated on scientific cause and effect principles and offer the most reliable predictors we can offer as human beings.  Behavioral Intervention Teams are excellent tools but they too are wrought with subjective references that can quickly overwhelm them. This again is the reason for our Meter of Emerging Aggression, which is built upon the premise of identifying someone “on the path to violent attack;” the only known why to reliably predict the next shooter.

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