After Virginia Beach Mass Shooting, Report Calls for Improved Security and Other Changes

The day after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a makeshift memorial was created at the edge of a police cordon in front of a municipal building.

The day after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a makeshift memorial was created at the edge of a police cordon in front of a municipal building. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

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The independent report made 58 recommendations, ranging from significant changes to the city’s management of human resources to increased workplace violence prevention training.

VIRGINIA BEACH – Months after a mass shooting killed 12 people in a government building, an independent security firm on Wednesday said this city should bolster its communications systems, improve physical security on its municipal campus and improve workplace violence prevention programs. 

Hillard Heintze, the independent security risk firm hired by the Virginia city, presented the Virginia Beach mayor and city council with its main findings and recommendations after investigators’ review of the May 31 mass shooting carried out by a city engineer. DeWayne Craddock killed 11 city employees and a contractor, as well as injured four others, before he was fatally shot by police.

The 262-page report credited the courageous response of employees and first responders to the deadly attack. It did not fault Virginia Beach for missing any signs before the assault, saying there weren’t any they could have noticed. 

“The attacker did not display warning signs or prohibitive behavior associated with a pathway to violence that could have provided the city of Virginia Beach or expert threat assessors with any opportunity to intervene ahead of the violence on May 31,” said Arnette Heintze, the CEO of the Chicago-based Hillard Heintze.

The report did identify problems related to city security, including disparate physical and technical security plans across the city’s municipal buildings. Virginia Beach also lacked a robust camera network to provide visibility across the municipal campus. 

Investigators made 58 recommendations for steps the city could take in the future, ranging from better on-scene communication by emergency personnel to installation of panic buttons in some city facilities.

Victims’ family members were briefed on the report an hour before it was released publicly. City officials were not provided with copies of the independent report until just hours before Wednesday night’s meeting. Skimming the report during the meeting, city council members asked Heintze what the city could do better.

Heintze suggested that leaders pay special attention to the recommendations involving human resources and workplace violence prevention.

The independent assessment was ordered this summer by the city auditor’s office to review aspects of the shooting related to the gunman’s employment with Virginia Beach municipal government, as well as city policies, emergency response and workplace culture.

Little is known about Craddock’s motivations, and a criminal police investigation remains ongoing. The shooter had submitted his resignation earlier in the day of the incident.

The firm did not review the contents of Craddock’s personal computer because it remains in the custody of the FBI. While noting that the firm found draft emails on Craddock’s work email in which he was critical of discipline he received for violating city policies related to payments, Heintze said his team found no information that established a clear motive for the incident. 

In September, Heintze told council members that part of his review would be to look at whether African American employees were treated differently than white employees and more often the subject of discipline. Craddock was black, while his victims were both white and black. 

As part of the review, the firm held meetings with both city employees and the public. The feedback the team got from employees led them to initiate a workplace satisfaction survey to understand the degree to which racial discrimination might be present in the city’s government. Heintze said that ultimately the concerns raised by several individuals did not appear indicative of a broader issue. 

“We found that the voices we heard were isolated and there was not a systemic problem,” Heintze said. 

In its look at the city’s human resources structure, the report noted that Virginia Beach relies on a decentralized system of liaisons who report to individual agency supervisors. This can create tension if employees are reporting concerns to an HR liaison who also reports to their own department manager, the report said. To address these issues, the report recommended better centralizing and training of human resources staff and liaisons, as well as establishing a Public Advocate’s Office, which would create an independent channel for employees to report concerns.

The report also said the city’s workplace violence prevention policies were “not sufficiently robust” nor were they sufficiently embraced by government leaders. The report recommended establishing a comprehensive training program and guidance that would help employees identify and report suspicious behavior, as well as help managers mitigate risks.

Two employees who had taken workplace violence prevention training ahead of the May 31 shooting utilized what they had learned to guide a dozen coworkers to a secure room, where they took cover while the incident unfolded, Heintze said.  

Other suggested improvements related to the city’s critical incident response system and upgrades to facilities security. The report notes that department heads are responsible for requesting, planning and funding security improvements within their buildings, something that could fall outside their expertise. Instead, the city should have a single department be tasked with overseeing physical and technical security operations, the report says.

Virginia Beach Mayor Robert Dyer said he hoped the report would help the city “emerge as a stronger safer organization.”

“We have a lot to reflect on, and it is incumbent on us to do a thorough analysis,” Dyer said at the conclusion of the meeting.

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Andrea Noble is a Staff Correspondent with Route Fifty.

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