They analyzed Jeffrey Dahmer, the confrontation at Waco and the USS Iowa explosion. The movie "Silence of the Lambs" was based, in part, on their work.
Today, the retired FBI and Secret Service agents who make up the Manassas-based Academy Group Inc. are counseling hundreds of Fortune 500 clients on how to keep workplace tensions from exploding into deadly violence, such as the outbursts that recently killed nine people in Atlanta and three in Pelham, Ala.
"Corporate America has directors of security, but not resources," said Kenneth Baker, vice president of AGI. "We like to think we're providing the same services for corporations as the [FBI] behavioral unit provides law enforcement."
Workplace homicides, which are the second leading cause of on-the-job death, fell to the lowest level in the past seven years in 1998, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 709 workers died because of job-related homicides in 1998, compared with 1,080 in 1994, the highest total in the seven-year period since statistics have been collected on such violent acts.
But the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey reports that assaults and threats of violence against Americans at work total almost 2 million a year. The national focus on tragedies such as the Atlanta shootings are causing more companies to take preventive measures, Baker said.
AGI was founded in 1989 when Roger DePeue, a former behavioral sciences unit chief and FBI agent, was moving toward retirement. He thought his speciality could be offered to the private sector.
DePeue recruited FBI agents and Secret Service agents, several of whom had helped create the National Center for Violent Crime, a government clearinghouse for unsolved cases.
About half of AGI's work involves a quick-response service to deal with immediate threats, and each year it handles about 250 such cases. Although the company will not disclose what it charges clients, officials said annual revenue is about $1 million.
Cases from its files include:
* A distribution center employee who received several mutilated Barbie dolls at work.
* A worker at a large retailer who received anonymous notes in her locker from a suspected stalker.
* A longtime employee of a hazardous chemicals manufacturer who suddenly started slacking off at work and making veiled threats under his breath, such as, "That guy should be shot."
"When people are angry at their employer or employment, they do all kinds of things," DePeue said.
The firm's other major service is training and counseling to keep such crises from occurring.
At AGI sessions, employees and human resource officials are trained to look for warning signs in co-workers who may be headed for trouble and ways to avoid confrontations. AGI often counsels companies to create policies to deal with special circumstances, such as direct threats.
Ken Caldwell, executive director of safety and security at the Newark, Ohio-based Longaberger Co., a Fortune 500 company known for its handmade decorative baskets, has used AGI's services for 15 months. AGI trains Longaberger's human resources staff, security department, employee assistance personnel and legal department.
"They help us to recognize the precursors to potentially violent behavior," Caldwell said. "One of the biggest things they help us with is how to defuse violent situations." The officials at Longaberger, he said, have learned how economic, social and personal issues affect people and how that is carried over into the work environment.
AGI's training programs also instruct workers in how to deal with irate customers. "How do you deal with them so you don't let their negative behavior [push] you to do the same," for example, Baker said. "Control emotions so you don't lend value to threats. Many things can cause an escalation of violence. We're not a civil society like we used to be."
AGI is often called when local police would be unable or unwilling to act, company officials said.
"A CEO will receive a threatening letter that the police would scoff at. I do the real analysis, get into the behavioral aspect of the letter writer," said Peter Smerick, vice president of AGI who retired from the FBI in 1994, after 24 years.
Smerick described studying a series of threatening letters received by a chief executive. It was suspected that someone on the staff was sending them. AGI conducted an analysis of the letters--studying the manner in which they were worded and written--and found the author. It turned out that the letter-writer was a domestic worker employed at the executive's home, Smerick said.
AGI often is also called in to work with human resource counselors after the employee assistance program doesn't seem to work. AGI will study the "problem employee" and help guide the human resources, legal and security staff on how to let the individual go without incident.
"The stuff that we suggest is a little counter-business," said Richard Ault, president of AGI. Among other things, AGI will suggest extending mental health benefits beyond what companies usually offer departing employees.
"We try to prevent violence," Baker said. "If a company is not going to keep an employee. . . . we work with [the company] to help [the employee] maintain dignity while moving into another setting. Or they might, in today's terms, go postal."
Business: Counsels companies on how to keep workplace tension from escalating into violence; also performs analysis on workplace violence committed.
Founder: Roger DePeue, a former behavioral sciences unit chief at the FBI
President: Richard Ault
Employees: Eight retired FBI and Secret Service agents
Number of cases last year: 250
Number of current cases: 125
SOURCE: Academy Group Inc.
Minimizing the Risks
Among methods recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to help control workplace violence:
* Physical barriers, such as bullet-resistant enclosures, pass-through windows or deep service counters.
* Convex mirrors, elevated vantage points, clear visibility of service and cash register areas.
* Bright and effective lighting.
* Adequate staffing.
* Arrangement of furniture to prevent entrapment.
* Cash-handling controls, use of drop safes.
* Height markers on exit doors.
* Establishment of a liaison with local police.
* Training in identifying hazardous situations and appropriate responses in emergencies.
* Video surveillance equipment and closed-circuit TV.