It is worthwhile to remember the past periodically. George Santayana is credited with the now famous quote "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." That has been paraphrased repeatedly by others, but the message remains. I thought about this recently when writing a post Can We Make Ourselves Safe(er), which focused on security at hearing sites.
I remember when there was no security at offices of the Florida Judges of Compensation Claims. That ended in the 1990s shortly after an incident in West Palm Beach, described in Terror, Tragedy At Law Firm. An injured worker was "consumed with rage and pain," the effects of a work accident that he said "took away his job and his strength." The worker hijacked a taxi, entered the law firm representing his employer, and took five hostages.
The worker called a news outlet, then released some hostages, and hours passed. Eventually, the worker shot himself. When police entered the building they discovered he was not the only victim of his violence. A 38 year old attorney, with a young son and pregnant wife, was also killed. The news reported on the positive attributes of this attorney, his contribution to his firm, family and community. Ironically, neither the murdered attorney nor another that was shot in the arm had anything to do with this worker's case.
As far as I know, the police never discerned why the shooter chose those two attorneys. The attack left lawyers and others worried and fearful, according to the news report. Fearful of their experience, but as likely fearful of not understanding why there was an attack, and what might lead to another.
When I wrote Can We Make Ourselves Safe(er), it had been some years since I thought of the West Palm Beach death and the changes it brought to Florida workers' compensation. I had been reminded of it in 2005 when a strange attack occurred at a Pensacola law firm. In that incident, a thirty year old attorney had just been elected to the Florida Bar Young Lawyer Board of Governors. The Florida Bar News reported in Meador murdered at work. His wife was likewise expecting "the couple's first child" in a few months. He was involved in the Bar, his community, and his firm.
Mr. Meador returned to his office one day and found his father in law waiting for him. The two went into Meador's office and closed the door. Witnesses reported that "five seconds later the first shot was fired," and "a minute later" the father in law, Mr. Johnson, exited the office and left the building. The story is a bit confusing because Johnson apparently then "ignored police orders to stop," drove away in his car, and "rammed a patrol car arriving at the scene." The presence of police at that time seems confusing in light of the very short times (seconds, a minute) perceived by witnesses.
When read in 2005, news of the Meador shooting brought back memories of the Edwards shooting. The similarities were striking. Young, well-thought-of attorneys were murdered. There was no convincing explanation for the motivation, if any, behind the shootings. There were at least suggestions that Edwards was not even known to his attacker. Both troubling incidents that struck a bit too close to home perhaps. And, we reflect upon our safety.
I concluded Can we Make Ourselves Safe(r) questioning whether we think about our safety often enough, questioning what we can do for ourselves. It occurred to me again more recently when I visited a professional office. The subject of safety was on my mind, and I noted an unattended front desk, furniture positioning that would have foreclosed seeing someone approach even if the desk were attended. It was an environment seemingly devoid of any attention to, or concern for, security.
There are those who conclude carrying their own weapon is an answer to personal security. Following the Ohio courthouse shooting last year, a National Judicial College survey revealed that 26% of responding judges carried a weapon. Others expressed a desire to, but noted some legal restriction preventing it. I have known several judges over the years who either carried a weapon or kept one within reach during proceedings. One carried a small pistol around in a paper lunch bag. Another kept a gun in a hearing room table. Undoubtedly, it is seen as a step by a significant number.
But, what of everyone else? I was approached at The Florida Bar Workers' Compensation Section Forum in April with that question. An attorney that takes issue with the OJCC weapons policy had questions and complaints. This attorney is licensed for Florida concealed carry, and is disturbed that the OJCC does not allow weapons in our offices. We do provide weapon lockers. Visitors can and do carry weapons to and from our offices, but they are asked to store them upon arrival. Of course, we prefer that visitors store their weapons in their own vehicles instead, but we offer the option.
Google searches for "how can I look out for my safety" are less than helpful. When I ran that search, my top twenty results included The Men Without Hats singing Safety Dance, but not much about actual safety. A search for "personal safety violence" was more productive, including a National Crime Prevention Council website with links to tips, publications and programming. There are many suggestions, but most you likely learned long ago. Examples include awareness of surroundings, being discreet with valuables, walking in groups when possible, parking in well-lit and well-traveled areas.
Review of several websites of suggestions and tips reinforced that I have heard many of those suggestions before. And, that leads to the conclusion that perhaps we all know a good deal about personal safety, but perhaps we forget to think about it. The safety in which we live daily perhaps lulls us into complacency about our safety and allows us to focus completely on our daily tasks. Perhaps hearing that the Florida crime rate is the lowest it has been for 47 years instills us with a sense of confidence? Similarly, I am no longer surprised when an attorney admits her/his firm has no formal disaster (think hurricanes, flooding, etc.) policy or plan.
Which returns me to the recent visit I made to a professional office. I found no one at the front desk, the front door was thus not monitored. Had someone been sitting there, my approach would nonetheless have been difficult to observe because of the arrangement of furniture and a large plant. I was within a few feet of the receptionist's chair before someone sitting there could have seen me (in some part due to the very high counter built into the desk. There were no apparent cameras, nor even doors separating the lobby from the remainder of the business. The business was open, accessible, and utterly unsecured.
The experience left me pondering whether we remember the Mr. Edwards and Mr. Meadors. They were reportedly among the best and brightest, were engaged in their families, communities, and practices. Their murders were shocking and disturbing to so many. But, are they remembered today? Better stated, are the lessons of their deaths remembered today? Are we taking precautions to protect our own safety? Are we conscious of our surroundings and observant as we go through our day? Are we using all those personal safety tips and lessons we have heard over the years? Or, are we complacent and comfortable in a world that perhaps all too often surprises us?