Dr. Steve Albrecht, author of Some People are No Damn Good, has spent his life and career protecting our schools, workplaces and neighborhoods from crime and violence. In fact, in 1994, he co-wrote one of the first business books on workplace violence.
In this conversation, we talk about the warning signs for active shooters on campus and at work. Keeping your kids safe from sexual predators, scary neighbors, and bullies. It’s all here in this conversation.
We talk about drugs, sex, guns, cops, crooks and why a low crime rate doesn’t make us feel very safe. By the end of this episode, you’ll have a self-help guide for your home, your work and your family.
Steve Albrecht: I always wanted to be a cop. When I was about 11 or 12 years old I thought I wanted to be a baseball player. I didn’t have the skills to be a really good baseball player, but I had a life changing moment when I was 15.
I worked at a grocery store in San Diego, and I’d been there about five weeks and had worked with a friend of mine who I’ve known since elementary school. Late one night, two guys came in with guns and grabbed me, grabbed my partner, and threw us on the ground. Closed the doors to the store, the guy put a 357 revolver to the back of my head, and said, give me the keys to the safe.
Not being bullet proof, I said to my partner, he’s got them and pointed to him. These guys took about 800 bucks form the safe, which is a lot of money in 1978. I was 15 years old, I weighed about 105 pounds, I’d kissed one girl, not very successfully. I’d never driven a car.
“I didn’t have much life experience to pass before me when I was laying on the ground with a gun to my head.”
I thought to myself, “If I survive this, I’m going to go be a cop.” I’m going to lift some weights, I’m going to eat some protein shakes, I’m going to go be a cop. And that’s what I did.
They caught the guy later on and I testified against him, but all through high school, I prepared myself to do that job. I lifted weights in college and I got out of the University of San Diego in May of ’84 and I went to the police academy in San Diego in July of 1984.
Being robbed at 15 years old changed my life and put me on a trajectory to think about cops and crooks and crime and protecting people and I became the protector at age 21 for the city of San Diego, me and 2,000 other cops. That’s how I started into this subject matter.
Charlie Hoehn: Wow, not only have you had a long career as a police officer, you have also written, this is your 20th book.
Steve Albrecht: Well, what happened was, I came out of University of San Diego with a degree in English, and what do you in English degree besides be a teacher or maybe go be a cop. I’d always been a writer. I’d started writing mystery stories for these magazines like Elory Queen’s mystery magazine or Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine when I was a kid.
Tried to get stuff published, was always tinkering with the typewriter, even in elementary school or junior high and high school especially in college. As an English major, I said, how am I going to use my degree as a cop? I started running police columns for our police newspaper in San Diego, I started running for police magazines, and then I sort of branched off from there and said well, I can write for other national publications, which I did.
Back in those days, you would send off a query or an article, an envelope and they would take a week and come back and say yes or no.
I really started back in the ‘80s making my career as a writer as a secondary to being a cop.
Bold and Bragging
Charlie Hoehn: You have some really interesting titles for your chapters and I want to go through the ones that really jump out to me and let’s start with the beginning which is, “Be A Sexual Narcissist, Go to Jail.”
Steve Albrecht: Yeah, what we’ve discovered now on, because of Facebook and Twitter and things like that now, people engage in illegal sexual behavior with a child or somebody else, you know, non-consenting adult, they post these things.
It’s amazing to me, they brag about what they’ve done. They put up photographs of things that they have done, and this is how the police catch them.
This narcissism that we have now, some people in society, they have to broadcast everything that they’ve done, even of a personal or sexual nature, even an illegal nature, makes it easier for the cops to catch these people and that didn’t exist before social media. I find that fascinating.
Charlie Hoehn: Are there any stories that jump out to you, that we’re really in this new world now?
Steve Albrecht: Well, my wife was a sex crimes detective for the PD in San Diego. She worked there for 26 years and as a sex crimes detective for five. She had a lot of cases where the perpetrator would post what he did on Facebook, sometimes in kind of obtuse or covert ways, and then the victim would say, “Well I don’t know the guy’s name but it was Billy something and he said he’s on Facebook and he has this kind of profile.” My wife would track him down 15 minutes later and they would do a pretext call and the guy would admit to what he did.
You know, sexual behavior, sexual assault, date rape, things like that, and he’d get arrested. There were so many of these cases where the driving factor that caught the guy was social media.
I just found it interesting how people would say, “I’m going to put this stuff up here on to the internet for perpetuity,” and then not consider the consequences for their criminal act.
Keeping Your Family Safe
Charlie Hoehn: One of the driving themes of your book is how do you protect your family, right? How do you look after the ones that you love, knowing these bad people are out there?
Steve Albrecht: You know, the central themes for my book are domestic violence and relationships, where there’s a precursor or some kind of behaviors that you may look at, especially as a woman, to stay away from these type of guys.
We look at in the book at bad teachers who have engaged in sexual behavior with students, especially their interesting dynamic of female teachers and male students, we look at school shootings.
I talk a lot about workplace violence and things that kind of related to keeping your family safe. What are the things that we’re learning from the news and the social media and what are we learning from our interactions with each other, where the sort of dynamics of these stories are now public and national and even international, and what can you learn from the people that done these things to keep your own family safe.
That’s really the driving theme of the book—how do you take care of yourself without having to rely on the police, which there is not enough of, and without having to rely on our politicians to be able to protect you.
It’s really about what you do for yourself personally, in your relationships, what you do to protect your family, at school, at work, in the mall, at the movie theater, etc.
Guns in the Workplace
Charlie Hoehn: Awesome, let’s talk about guns at work and workplace violence. This has been one of your specialties, I should say for decades. You have a chapter called “Guns at Work Coming Soon to an Office Near You.” It’s a bit sensationalist, no?
Steve Albrecht: Well, I started working on workplace violence prevention back in 1992. I wrote the first book in the country on workplace violence, a book called Ticking Bombs, which came out at 1994. That book featured an interview I did with a convicted workplace double murder, a guy named Robert Mack. He killed two people at General Dynamics in San Diego.
Back in those days, we were seeing workplace violence and school violence as pretty rare, and we were seeing workplace violence as mostly happening at the post office. It was kind of a ‘90s thing.
After Columbine in April of ’99, we really flipped the switch where it became a national concern for us. Then we just saw so many cases over and over again, in schools, in workplaces and public spaces. These cases now are just part of the nomenclature, it’s part of the national conversation, and a big part of that is guns now.
We have always had a debate about ownership of guns and how many guns is enough for people and assault weapons and things like that. But now we’re seeing states like Texas and Utah and other places where they’ve said, “Okay, now, college students over the age of 18 can bring firearms on to campus to protect themselves.”
That never happened 20 years ago.
Now we’re seeing companies say, “Well, you can bring your gun to work and you can leave it in your car if you need to protect yourself from one of these rare possibilities of an active shooter. Go out to your car and get your gun.”
That’s never happened prior to this time.
Now we’re having a national conversation in the human resources arena about whether it’s okay to allow people who are qualified or certified, have a concealed weapons permit can pass some kind of background check that we create as an employer. Maybe a psychological check or something like that, as well as that range proficiency check, that says you can bring your gun to work to protect the people here.
That conversation had really evolved over the last 15 or 20 years where now it’s a discussion.
Motive Isn’t Enough
Charlie Hoehn: You talk about the never ending search for motive, right? Are you saying that asking why is sort of irrelevant because bad people do bad things?
Steve Albrecht: I think that’s absolutely true, and here’s why. When we look at people doing bad things, whether it’s at a school or a mall or a movie theater or a church or at a workplace, there’s two elements to that actual act. One is the motive, and the other person’s opportunity to do those things.
Physical security and key cards and guards and the arrival of the police or you know, barriers, gates, things like that, locked doors—that interrupts the opportunity. Well, the news media, you know, they love to focus on motive. The motive could be a broken heart, this guy comes back to shoot his ex-girlfriend who is now dating somebody else at the office.
The motive could be an irrational religious belief, the motive could be mom and dad hated me and kicked me out, the motive could be untreated mental illness. My experience, having done this 25 years, is I can’t fix motive and I can’t often identify motive until after this person does these things, but I can focus on the opportunity.
We have key cards and we have a guard in the office, in the lobby, and we have good vigilance outside, and we have systems created where employees can talk to us or students can talk to us about things that they’ve heard or seen.
“That’s how we stop these folks.”
Looking at motive which is what the news media likes to do. The other thing they like to do is focus on profiles which are not very useful either. What we focus on is behaviors instead of profiles, and these types of things make it easier to stop these people.
My thing is, we’re never going to understand or fix motive. Motive could be mental illness, motive could be broken heart—but we can’t interrupt the opportunity.
Responsibility and Opportunity
Charlie Hoehn: You mentioned sort of the systemic changes you can make to the environment and everything to prevent these opportunities or to minimize them. Is there anything that normal civilians can do to minimize these opportunities?
Steve Albrecht: Well, if you take what the government is always telling us—which is if you see something, say something—we can take that to two arenas that we’re in constantly. One is the school and the other is the workplace.
Based on research that was done by the secret service and by the US Marshalls and the FBI. They came up with a concept called leakage.
“When somebody’s getting ready to do a bad thing, they tell somebody about it.”
The interesting thing is, they don’t tell the target. The kid that want us to shoot the football coach does not tell the football coach. He’d get expelled or arrested or put into mental health and that will stop his plan. He tells his buddy at school.
The challenge in the schoolyard and the workplace if an employee overhears something that someone says, is for them to have the courage—with a capital C—to tell the safety and security stakeholders.
In schools, we put in tip lines and we put in crime stopper lines or we tip lines and on the workplace, we say, “Look, there’s a number of people who are responsible for keeping you safe here at your office, it could be HR, it could be security if that’s a function, it could be risk management, it could be the company lawyer, it could be department director or the senior leadership. You, employee, if you hear these things that talk about this pre-attack, this leakage behavior, you have a duty to come forward and tell us.”
If you’re a student, you talk to your parents or a counselor or a teacher or an administrator on the school grounds about what you’ve heard.
It does take courage for these kids to do that, but that’s how we stop these people. This idea – you’ve seen it in the coverage in the news media that these guys just show up and suddenly snap is a falsehood, it’s a misnomer. They typically come in with this leakage conversation, this leakage behavior, what they post on social media, what they say to other people, not directed to the target but directed about the target. It takes courage for employees and for students to tell us what’s going on, that’s how we stop these folks.
Slipped through the Cracks
Charlie Hoehn: What would you say to students who had a reported things and nobody did anything? It’s not always the case, right? But that does happen, they slip through the cracks, what then?
Steve Albrecht: It’s a real challenge, because you know from your time in the schoolyard and mine is that kids do not feel comfortable being a snitch or saying something about some other kid, even though they know intuitively that what this kid is saying or talking about or doing, like showing them a gun, is inherently dangerous. But they feel like, if I do this, I’m going to be labeled a rat or I’m going to get retaliated against.
It’s really a common fear. And that’s my biggest challenge and my work these days is to convince students to be able to make these reports with some courage that’s going to take to do it and that the organization, the district itself, the school facility is going to have the courage to follow up and respond to these things.
Now, parenthetically, sometimes what happens is they overreact. I was just checking on Twitter today in San Diego, where our community college evacuated their entire community college campus today because of a verbal threat that somebody made.
Now, that could be an overreaction, I don’t know all the details in those things. But it does suggest that people are paying more attention to these things and they’re listening to the messengers. Instead of saying don’t bother me with this problem, we’re not interested in it, or what you’re telling me can’t possibly be relevant or important.
Digging for the Truth
Charlie Hoehn: Relative to our history of violence in various civilizations, we are in one of the safest times, right? You talk about in your book. Crime is down, Elvis is dead, so why don’t we feel safe?
Steve Albrecht: I think part of it goes back to the news media coverage. Imagine you’re an eight year old kid or a seven year old kid and you just happen to watch the first 10 minutes of the news, especially the local news.
What do you see? Who got arrested, who died, who went to jail, what catastrophe happened to the community or what catastrophe happened in the country.
These things, as you’ve said, are rare events, but if you’re a little kid or an adult who can’t process this and see this really contextual issues here that these things are rare…
“More people are struck by lightning than are killed in workplace violence incidents in this country.”
Where kids are killed from things falling off of dressers and crushing them and are killed in school shootings.
But, when the news media gets behind these stories and they add a lot of energy and momentum to them, it creates a sense in this world that we’re all just two seconds away from the next mass shooting. Now, on the one hand, I will agree, statistically that we’ve seen a jump in these things and I can’t say why, this stuff didn’t happen when I was a school kid in the ‘70s and in the ‘80s, where we see it now.
But also, there are rare events and there are catastrophic events—and they are rare.
I think context is important, but I have a big problem with the news media’s coverage of these things because they sensationalize this stuff, especially a mass shooting. We’re coming up on next month, the anniversary of the Las Vegas massacre. If you look at that case, they covered it for almost a solid week.
I say this with compassion for my immediate friends, my daughter works for a TV station in Miami. She’s a news editor at CBS News in Miami. My best friend is Major Garrett, he’s the chief Whitehouse correspondent for CBS News. I get it.
When they say, “Well, if we don’t cover the story, some of the other station will,” I get that. But I’m big on putting things into context and saying these things are statistically rare.
People still feel quite afraid about this subject because of the coverage of news media. Just tends to plaster all over the place.
Charlie Hoehn: Our brains tune in to like a laser. We’re so focused on it and so it’s so easy for us to get wrapped up in these narratives and have that be our focus for a week. Even though it’s never going to happen to us or statistically, it’s so unlikely.
Steve Albrecht: I understand the news media’s perspective on this stuff ,but you know, their motto back in the early days was, “If it bleeds, it leads.” And that still holds true for them today.
The first 15 minutes are pretty negative, the last 10 minutes are usually my favorite part of the local news, which is the sports, the weather and then some happy story about kids playing soccer or cats being rescued from trees.
But when they talk about some fun stuff, that’s the part of the world that I want to hear about. Those are the stories I’d like to see more of. That’s why I like things like CBS Sunday Morning where they have much more positive stories.
I try to stay away from Dateline and all these other programs or just murder mystery because I think it really gives people a sense of how dangerous the world is and you’ve said, America’s a safe country overall.
It’s different than lots of other places around the world where you have a much higher likelihood of being killed by somebody who is a stranger to you.
Other Risks of Violence
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s talk about sex offenders. I’m curious what your perspective is, on the job in particular.
Steve Albrecht: Well, we have the Megan’s Law Database of sex offenders that everybody can access. It used to be you had to go to the police station or the sheriff station, typically, the county sheriff would have a big database you can look at. Now you can do it online.
That was really driven by John Walsh—you remember him from the crime shows that he would do—and the death of his son Adam. What we created was a national database for everybody who is convicted of a certain level of sex crime that has to register as a sex offender.
There’s a couple of pros and cons there. One is, in terms of the pro side, a good predictor of future deviant sexual behavior is past deviant sexual behavior, that’s why the list exists.
The other problem on the other side is, we put everybody on there, including an 18 year old that has sex with a 17 and a half year old girlfriend in a consensual relationship where he’s labeled as a sex offender because the parents are super angry.
The other problem is, if you look at sex offenders in terms of the things that they have done, we have now a kind of a catch 22 where we say, “Okay, let’s say this person has been a convicted of a sexual crime,” and they are a sex offender and we find that out during a background check.
They either admit it to us, or we discover it during a background check that you know, they’ve signed the waivers and we done a background check on them. Then we figure out that they have this and we can’t use that as the sole reason not to hire this person because it’s discriminatory, and I get that.
It’s like other issues where you say, we don’t base on race or gender or sexual orientation or veteran status. We can’t make decisions not to hire somebody based on their characteristics. If you look at all the databases for sex offenders, it says on the bottom, you can’t use this to deny somebody credit or housing or employment. I’m okay with that because I want the system to be fair.
But what happens is we have a little bit of a loop hole. Let’s say somebody works – an example I used was a maintenance guy at an apartment complex. One of the women is pushing her stroller back to her apartment and she doesn’t like the look the guy gives her and she gets kind of a funny feeling, and women are good at those intuitive understanding of those things.
She runs the guy in the database, turns out he’s a sex offender. So she complains to the management company for the department complex, and they he doesn’t hang around children as part of his work and he has no interaction with children, he cleans the swimming pools and he does this and that, we can’t fire him because of this.
We have that loophole where people are like, “I’m outraged this guy works here.” So the question I ask is, in my perfect world, can employers make more of a value judgment to say if the guy is doing something that has no contact with women or children and if that was his victim or crime of choice, then can we say, “Yeah, we’ll hire him,” but if he does have access or exposure to women and children can we turn them down?
The answer is no.
Now, of course there are some examples, like being a school bus driver, working at a daycare center, or lots of other jobs which sort of fall between the cracks there.
Charlie Hoehn: You have a chapter in your book called “An Honest Admission – Things We Wish Defense Attorneys Would Say.” I’m curious. You’re speaking on behalf a police officer I take it?
Steve Albrecht: How we look at these things in the world can be colored by the language that the defense attorneys use. “My client allegedly did this,” even though we have him on video tape and there’s his face and his fingerprints.
The point I made in the book is there was a shooting that happened at the University of Alabama Huntsville involving a professor—a woman who killed three of her colleagues during a staff meeting and wounded three others. Amy Bishop. She was convicted and sent to prison in Alabama.
Her attorney was a famous defense attorney in Alabama and he said, “My client is crazy,” and I’ve never heard of that before. What I typically hear is my client had a horrible childhood where you know, he was beaten and his parents abandoned him and all these other things.
This guy was honest enough to say, “Look, we’re not going to make an offense that you arrested the wrong person or she didn’t really do it or she didn’t mean to do it. My client’s mentally ill, she needs treatment.”
I kind of found that type of honesty amongst the defense attorney is refreshing and also rare.
Charlie Hoehn: Why is it so rare?
Steve Albrecht: I can only speak from their profession, which is they give a vigorous constitutional defense to anybody that does any horrible thing. They don’t have to like this person or agree with what their behavior was, but they have this duty to say, this person’s entitled to these civil rights under our constitution under our court system.
I get that. But once in a while I see him on TV talk about stuff as soon as the person’s arrested, they go, “We’re going to put up a vigorous defense,” and then there’s some sense of doubt as where the cops may have screwed up or their DNA doesn’t match. Six months later, this person quietly takes a plea and gets a sentence for 52 years in prison.
I just wish the guy hadn’t had that conversation in the beginning.
It’s sort of acting like this guy didn’t do it, when in reality, most of the defense attorneys I talk to said, “My guy did it, we’re just trying to find a way to give him the least possible sentence and the best possible treatment and whatever mental health or correctional facility he’s got to go to.”
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, that sounds very reasonable and I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be in that position day in and day out defending people that you know did something and giving them the best opportunity that you possibly can. Really challenging.
Steve Albrecht: I met a guy once, very interesting cat, he was from Boston and he was out in California and he was a defense laywer. I said, “How did you get into the business?” He said, “The mob in Boston paid for my law school.”
“I was from the south, you know, Boston neighborhood, I was a Southie kid, kind of a tough kid, I went to law school, they said, we’ll pay for you to go to law school. When you’ve paid back the amount equal to what we put in to your career out here in terms of the defense that we want you to do for our guys, then you’re free to do what you want.”
He worked for them for about five years, he moved to California.
He said, “You know, I have no qualms when I was dealing with these guys that they were angels. I was just trying to make the best possible situation for what they got themselves caught up in.”
I thought that was refreshing.
Quiet Dangers on the Force
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s talk about the silent epidemic of police suicides. No one sees the before/after and how challenging that really is for them as individuals and their families. Talk to me about this?
Steve Albrecht: I have strong feelings about this issue, because I think most people that are listening to us talk about this don’t realize that more cops kill themselves each year—I think the number last year was 146—than are killed in the line of duty.
About 115 or so cops are killed in the line of duty, half of those die in accidents typically motorcycle, car accidents, plane crashes, helicopter crashes, and then the other 50% are killed by crooks.
But 145 kill themselves each year, and this has been going on for decades.
I did a presentation for a security group about this a couple of years ago, and we did a lot of research about how these things happen. From looking at the job, there’s a lot of factors that make cops pretty good candidates for suicide.
One is a lot of alcoholism or alcohol use at least in that culture. The other is, big boys don’t cry. Big girls don’t cry, tough it out, you know, worry about this on your own time, you have to be professional and keep a brave face. And then the third issue is that they are about a foot and a half away from a firearm almost 24/7.
If you mix in depression and suicidality and alcohol use and the fact that in a big boys don’t cry, big girls don’t cry type of culture, in some departments, reaching out for help from a clinician, a therapist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, going to an employee assistance program, going to a police psychologist for help is seen as a sin.
It’s seen as weakness, and they don’t do it.
The other tough part about cops is they don’t warn they’re going to commit suicide. People say he seemed fine, she seemed fine. When I worked in the PD, one of our female captains won an award for community oriented policing. Drove from the awards ceremony, this national ceremony in San Diego, and shot herself to death.
When we look at the police culture, it’s to go take care of the baddest, the maddest, and the saddest our culture has to offer, our society has to offer, and then go home and cope with it through alcohol use or opiate pill use, that type of thing. It’s so surprising to me that we don’t have more of a national conversation about the police suicide.
And then inside that issue, I can’t get cops to go to employee assistance program therapist or psychologist or psychiatrist because of the stigma and also the fact that they focus more on saving their career than they do their life, if that makes sense. Their career is more important than their life, because that’s how they identify themselves.
You and I may see ourselves as authors and creators and things that we do, but we’re also human beings.
“They see themselves as cops first and everything else second.”
If you look at firefighters, there’s a much more healthy culture there. They exercise together, they work out, they train together, they debrief after they go to a horrible calls. A dead child in a car accident, they come back and talk about it. Cops go home and drink. Or cops go home and ruminate and cops go home and sit in the dark.
And the cumulative effects of those things over even a short amount of years—I only did the job 15 years there is still stuff that bothers me today. When you think about the cumulative effects for these people who are doing 20, 25, 30 years, it’s so surprising to me that we don’t address the issue of police suicides.
Looking to the Future
Charlie Hoehn: How do you think that culture is going to shift, or will it ever?
Steve Albrecht: It’s an interesting question because we have a lot of millennials and generation Y and Z coming into the police profession, and this is a complaint I hear from older cops: they don’t often see this as a career. They see it as a waystation.
So they may do this for some amount of time and then go do something else. I think that may actually be intellectually and physically healthy.
Imagine working in Chicago or New York or one of these tough cities where your life is on the line all the time. I worked in San Diego, and we had a decade or so that went between police murders. Some departments in our country, they happen every three months or so, sadly.
I think there is some sense that the younger people coming into the profession maybe have a little bit more perspective about it, but that’s still sort of plagued by the issue that the people and the police culture, the first responder culture in general don’t reach out for just logical help.
I’ve been through a therapist for some of my PTSD issues and I’ve talked to cops about that in public and say, “You know what? I feel like I am a pretty tough guy. I’ve been through treatment. I think it’s valuable for me to talk to somebody who’s not a cop and who doesn’t see the world through cop eyes.”
I think that’s valuable. So I am hopeful that we have some type of shift in that profession, but I also know that it’s been that way since the ‘60s in terms of the suicide issue. It’s a concern to me.
Charlie Hoehn: What did you find most helpful for overcoming your PTSD? Or are you still dealing with it?
Steve Albrecht: Well I felt comfortable talking with the therapist, a guy who specializes with PTSD stuff. I have a weird trigger for something that happened to me 30 years ago and it still triggers me today. I’ve been working on that. It’s really a small thing, but it’s a trigger for me in terms of stress.
Then the other part is, cops need to find other people that love them or like them not because the fact that they’re a cop.
The problem is, in that world, they hang around with other cops, so they talk through the police lens about how they see people. They divide people into categories based on this. There’s an us versus them sort of mentality. You are either with us or against us.
The news media hates us or this part of the public hates us and this part loves us, that’s everything.
I think the value for them in terms of good mental health is to talk to people that are not cops and to hang out with people and to socialize with people that are not cops or don’t care that they’re a cop and still like them as a human being.
Get a different perspective that the world is mostly good.
Some people are no damn good, as I said in the book, but some people are pretty good. You need to hang out with folks that aren’t bad characters all the time—crooks and crime and death and destruction. It can really color your worldview.
Having a separate life away from law enforcement is very valuable, and I think sometimes cops can’t see the forest for the trees.
Protecting Our Kids
Charlie Hoehn: What are the main ways to keep our children safe from school shootings?
Steve Albrecht: One thing is to be age appropriate in the conversation that you have with kids. I mean if you tell a six year old, “Listen to the teachers, maybe somebody brings a gun to school.” That kid is afraid to go to school. That’s ridiculous.
I talk to school districts and I talk to school administrators and PTAs and things like that, and I say, “Let’s be age appropriate in terms of what we share with these kids, what they can digest and what they can tolerate.”
Thirteen and fourteen year olds is a different story. An eight year old, you’re going to have a completely different conversation where you are going to say, “Look honey, school is safe. Listen to your teacher. Mom and dad will make sure you’re okay, no problem.”
“You don’t want them sleeping with one eye open because they are terrified.”
But the big thing I tell parents to tell their kids is listen to your son or daughter’s fear or concerns about bullying or about cyber bullying or threats or things that these kids hear from each other about guns coming to school or people coming to schools and shooting people.
Because when we look at the aftermath of a lot of these things, the kids knew about it and no one as a parent or administrator or as a teacher or counselor could talk to this kid or the kid couldn’t feel like they could talk to them and tell them what they’re concerned about.
The second thing is, I told my two kids to stay away from problem kids.
Kids that get into fights and kids that cause all kinds of ruckus at school, you want to stay away from those kids. I mean physically stay away from those kids. Don’t get caught up in those kids’ orbit.
The third thing is listen to what you hear at a school campus. If it sounds like danger, run away. It’s not firecrackers. How many times I’ve heard people say when there was a shooting “we thought it was firecrackers”? I’m like, “Really? In February? You thought it was firecrackers in February?”
So if you hear what sounds like fighting or shots or some kind of thing going on, go in the other direction.
One of the other factors is listen to the adults when it comes to doing what we need to do.
In the work place, we teach a concept called Run-Hide-Fight which means in the rare possibility somebody comes into your facility, your first choice is to get out. Take as many co-workers, customers, everybody you can with you, and leave the building.
And the second one is if you can’t do that, hide out. Break room, conference room, supervisor’s office, training room, some place you can barricade the door and stay away from the front door and wait for the cops to arrive.
Then the third choice fight back. Well for the schools, we only teach the first two. The first two for school kids in K through 12 environments are run out of the school area if you can get away to safer place.
And if you can’t, then hide out inside the classroom, auditorium, gym, wherever that happens to be. We don’t teach 5th graders to grab the guys leg or in the back and throw them down. But in the college or environmental workplace, we say Run-Hide-Fight works. Use that concept.
For kids in K through 12 environment, we say listen to the teachers. The good thing is that these teachers, because of these issues around the country, have a ton of experience in doing lockdown drills and active shooter drills and things like that.
They have been doing that stuff since ’99 with Columbine.
So I feel comfortable that the schools in this country are pretty good at keeping kids safe using the Run-Hide approach to these type of thing.
And then the third factor is that the cops are going to show up en masse and they’re going to do what they do to engage with the bad guy or bad woman that’s doing this stuff, and they are going to stop the threat. So that part is built in, that really changed after Columbine in April of ’99.
Making a Difference
Charlie Hoehn: I am curious what success story, for a lack of a better phrase, are you most proud of in your career? What contribution have you made that you have seen in the real world change?
Steve Albrecht: Well, I started doing the training for the workplace violence and school violence prevention as far back as 1992, and I was really kind of a lone voice in the wind. The book came out in 1994, The Ticking Bomb book, and my partner was a guy named Michael Mantel. He’s a police psychologist in San Diego.
He got the book on Oprah, that was kind of cool, but people didn’t really think about this issue as a national event until Columbine in April of ’99.
And after April of ’99, if you look at the biggest workplace violence incident we’ve ever had in our history, which is 9/11, those really flipped the switch for people. I was fortunate enough to start training for cities and counties in California. I have about a 115 cities that I support and all 58 counties in California, even though I am based in Colorado, I go out there every two weeks and do my work.
So I have a chance to use my training environment as a lab, and I work with these people, I teach a four hour block two times a day and I may teach the same block of instruction on workplace violence or school violence. I may teach it four times in one week. That is eight times that I teach it in front of people, and I hear lots and lots of stories about, “Hey we did this and it stopped that.”
“We installed security and we stopped this from happening because of what you did.”
Short story long, I get a lot of satisfaction from hearing people say, “We did what you suggested in terms of operational or policy changes. We installed these security devices and this place is safer because of you.”
That’s what makes me feel good about the work that I do, and I’ve been doing it for a really long time.
I have lots and lots of success stories where people go, “You know we didn’t really want to discuss this issue, but you presented it in a palatable way. You raised some concerns for us that we didn’t think about. You gave us some solutions and fixes that we could put into place and feel better about it.”
That’s what really keeps me going.
Charlie Hoehn: Have you made courses?
Steve Albrecht: Yeah, I have a lot of stuff which is just what I teach on lots of variations and versions whether at school or workplaces. I have a laptop and will travel, so I can come and present. Groups tend to bring me in for whatever concerns they typically are facing.
Some of that stuff is free.
I have my website, drstevealbrecht.com. There is a 30 minute program there for people to download about a knife fight in their workplace. There is a 25 minute program where I talk for free on a video about what you can do to keep your employees safe at work.
So that stuff I just use for people to be able to download on their own and look at or share with staff meeting conversation anytime you want to.
Connect with Dr. Steve Albrecht
Charlie Hoehn: Excellent. So drstevealbrecht.com, is there anywhere else that our listeners can follow you or contact you?
Steve Albrecht: Yeah, I am happy to engage with people on Twitter. I’m @drstevealbrecht on Twitter. I like to get emails from people that are interested in the things that I can turn them onto in terms of articles and books and videos.
There’s lots of free stuff on my website that they can look at themselves. I just see the work that I do is kind of being a shepherd—and not in a religious way, not in a biblical way, but taking care of people.
It’s what I have been doing since I was 21 years old, and I think people have the ability to be shepherds themselves and to take care of themselves and their families based on the world that we are living in now.
Charlie Hoehn: Beautifully said. And my final question for you is could you give our listeners a challenge, what is one thing they can do this week from your book that will have a positive impact?
Steve Albrecht: I think if you look at the stuff that we’ve covered, whether it’s teachers or school shootings or domestic violence, pick the thing that you are concerned about and be your own shepherd. Be your own protector.
I am a big fan of the police. I think they don’t get a lot of credit for the tough stuff they do. I know that there are some cops that have some problems in their performance and behavior but by and large, the folks that do that job I’m always very proud of.
But don’t wait for the cops to protect you.
It is really up to us as citizens in this world and in this community and in the United States to take care of ourselves. There is not enough cops to go and do that. So it is really about being your own shepherd and saying, “What do I need to protect? Who is most important?”
Whether it’s just me, whether it’s me and my kids and the people around me, the people in my church, the people in my workplace—choose some element in the world that you live in and say, “I need to pay more attention to the folks that I want to protect, including myself.”