Saturday, September 19, 2009

Workplace Violence? Making Sense of Annie Le's Murder

Am I the only one that was bothered by the effort of the New Haven Police Chief to make sure we didn't think the murder of Annie Le had anything to do with either New Haven or Yale? In their coverage in the New York Times Javier Hernandez and Serge Kovaleski write:

Chief James Lewis of the New Haven police would not speak about a possible motive, but said, “It is important to note that this is not about urban crime, university crime, domestic crime, but an issue of workplace violence, which is becoming a growing concern around the country.”

In a statement,Richard C. Levin, the Yale president, said the supervisor “reports that nothing in the history of his employment at the university gave an indication that his involvement in such a crime might be possible.

Urban crime? Last time I checked New Haven counted as a city (maybe not a major city). Does this just mean that the accused, Raymond Clark, happens to be white? He was after all otherwise a local. University crime? I'm not sure what that is meant to include except perhaps political violence like the 1969 bombing of a research lab in Wisconsin, or more recent violence by animal rights militants. Domestic crime? Ok, there is no hint that Annie Le had any kind of relationship with Raymond Clark. But where does the Chief get off hinting darkly that there is a growing problem of "workplace" crime?

It is true that people spend a lot of time at work, so its not surprising that they are sometimes victims of crime there. That is particularly true of domestic violence. When partners separate, work may be the easiest place for the abusive partner to arrange a confrontation. Many workplaces, like retail stores, are targets for robberies. Here is where you can find a copy of the federal government's last published report on workplace violence. Published in 2001 and reviewing data from 1993 through 1999, the report shows violence in the workplace going down along with violence generally in America in those years. In 1999 there were a little over 600 workplace homicides out of more than 15 thousand nationwide. Perhaps there is a new trend emerging in more recent data that the Chief is aware of. Otherwise it is irresponsible to suggest that workplaces are a place that would benefit from even more fear of crime than Americans generally already feel.

As for the university, like many employers they have already invested in crime background checks, and apparently closed circuit video taping around its animal labs (probably to combat animal rights activists). College or university teachers already enjoy the lowest level of occupational violence of any studied group (as of 2001) at only 2 incidents per 1,000 teachers.

I'm no expert on criminal motivation. She was a petite and beautiful young woman. He was a physically powerful and apparently heterosexual young man. We may never know more than that. Let us accept grief at a promising life brutally ended, and some gratitude at the prospect of legal justice thanks to what appears to have been an effective investigation (although some questions about crime scene management have emerged). Let us not seek to invest even more of our life-world with the apparatus of crime control in the pursuit of a level of perfect security that does not exist.

Wishing all of you a happy new year (on the Jewish calendar, 5770)

[cross posted at Prawfsblawg]

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