The death of Annie Le

In a September 30 e-mail to faculty and staff, Levin announced several steps to improve campus security, with an emphasis on preventing workplace violence. Among them: expanding the University Public Safety Council to include the head of human resources; offering workplace violence prevention training to supervisors; running criminal background checks on employees hired through temp agencies; and beefing up “emergency communication in isolated indoor and underground areas.” Highsmith says that last item could mean installing more regular phones or emergency “blue phones,” of which Yale has more than 400 in outdoor locations.

Levin's e-mail also said Yale is updating its workplace violence policy. According to Highsmith, the update consists of gathering together longstanding policies—a weapons ban, for example—that had not been articulated in one place before. Federal agencies such as the FBI and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommend requiring employees to report any workplace violence or potential violence, including threats, intimidation, and harassment. Asked about that, Highsmith responds, “It kind of is” mandatory now. “We regularly urge all members of the community to report any crimes, violence, threats, or suspicious behavior to the Yale Police,” she adds.

Yale's policy does not prescribe a single, central method for reporting workplace problems. Instead, it offers options: campus police, a supervisor, a union official, human resources. That might be a mistake, according to Janet Warren, a psychiatry professor at the University of Virginia who is an expert on workplace violence.

“There has to be a really clear-cut place. It has to be as simple as sending an e-mail to a certain location,” says Warren. “If it's structured and you've got to go to your supervisor and they've got to have a consultation with HR, a lot of time can go by.” The policy should make it clear, she says, that handling violence or threats is the responsibility of crime specialists, not middle managers. But the two work together: “Human beings are very intuitive—we need ordinary people with no expertise to note things. And then you need the experienced people to assess it.”

Although apparently no one at Yale raised a red flag about Clark, nonetheless, Warren observes, if Clark was guilty “there was something that motivated this man to kill this woman on that day. But I'm not suggesting that anyone fell short. These kinds of incidents—you're never going to be able to eradicate them.”

Asked whether anything could prevent such a crime in the future, deputy secretary Highsmith responds: “If we could prevent all crimes on campus, we would. We've worked very hard to prevent crime on campus. Obviously, this was someone with evil intent. I have no reason to believe that there's a campus full of those people.”  

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