Sooner or later most security directors, security managers and supervisors will inevitably become aware of an employee who feels their physical safety at work is at risk. When management becomes aware of the employee’s concern, whether the employee has directly complained or not, management should take the complaint seriously and take some steps to investigate and address the concern. Failure to do so can result in employees being harmed, civil lawsuits, fines from State or Federal regulatory agencies, and negative publicity.
In my role as a Physical Security Consultant I am continually surprised to discover that many companies have no specific policy on how to address employee personal safety concerns. Many have a general Human Relations (HR) policy of some sort but have not reviewed or revised it in many years and key employees are often not familiar with it. Often, there is also no "mechanism" in place for front-line supervisors to quickly and effectively deal with the situation. Supervisors often lack the knowledge of the importance of the policy or lack the training or supervisory oversight to appropriately act upon the employee’s concerns. That was the situation with "The Creepy Guy Case."
After retiring from law enforcement, I became a private investigator in Portland, Oregon. I always enjoyed conducting law enforcement investigations so transitioning the skills I honed over the years to the private sector came quite naturally. Largely because of my investigative experience I found immediate success in the private investigation business. The cases I work are varied and clients are usually businesses or attorneys, but I also accept some cases from private individuals.
Over the years sometimes acquaintances are curious about my work and ask me about my cases. I understand . . . the work of a private investigator is often shrouded in mystery and people are curious. Because all the work I do is confidential and for my client’s eyes only, it is difficult to share case information with others unless I do so only in a generic way.
The facts of the Creepy Guy case:
I picked up the phone one day and the caller explained that his 19-year old daughter worked in a local coffee shop. She reported to him that for several weeks a "creepy looking" guy would come in and order a coffee and sit by himself for hours & hours nursing a single cup of coffee. He would say nothing to anyone but he was clearly ogling her. On one occasion when she took the trash out back to the trash bin, she noticed this guy standing across the street watching her. The caller said the guy looked like a construction worker and although his hair was a little unkempt, his outward appearance was not out of the ordinary for the neighborhood, but his actions were "concerning."
I asked the father if his daughter had reported this to management. He told me that she had reported this to the lead-worker (the closest thing to an on-scene supervisor) and the lead-worker thought it was ‘no big deal’. The lead-worker told daughter that if someone wanted to take a long time to drink a cup of coffee, that was their business and they could stare at anything they wanted.
The father wanted me to find out who this guy was and if his "odd" behavior might warrant more concern. He felt that as a former police officer who had experience in interacting and dealing with all kinds of people (including plenty of weird acting people), I might be able to "pick-up" on some cues that might give some insight on what this guy was possibly really doing.
Was he just a homeless person who just sipped on his coffee for hours because he needed someplace to keep warm? Was he a harmless person with some form of mental illness that caused him to have "awkward" social skills?
I asked the normal questions of both father and daughter:
Was there any pattern to when the guy came in?
Does he ever meet up with anyone in the coffee shop?
Did he appear to be ogling any other workers in the coffee shop? Daughter said there were other women working on her shift but he only seems fixated on her.
When a worker spoke to him (refill, sir?) how does he respond?
Does he pay with cash or credit card? (he always paid with cash).
Does anyone know if he arrives on foot or in a vehicle?
Which way does he go when he finally leaves the shop?
The Investigative Plan
My plan was to come into the coffee shop when this guy showed up so I could see and evaluate him for myself. Then, I would covertly follow him when he finally left. Maybe he would get into a vehicle and I could write down the license plate number. Even if the vehicle was not registered to him, it would give me a lead to pursue. Maybe he would go to his work or home. Maybe he would meet up with someone else. Maybe he would just wander the streets. Who knows . . . but I was going to find out.
The challenge was that he would only come in sporadically and no one kept track of when he did show up. Sometimes he would come in during the morning for a few days in a row then not be seen for a week or so. Other days he would show up in the afternoon and then no one would see him for a few weeks. There was no real pattern to his appearances. Obviously, no client can afford to have a private investigator "stake-out" a location every day on the hope that the target individual might show up.
My thought was that if this guy was visiting this coffee shop and acting strange, maybe he was also visiting other coffee shops in the neighborhood. This was a very urban area and there were a number of other coffee shops within a 10-20 block radius. The investigative plan was to canvass all of these coffee shops periodically and hopefully find him in some other nearby coffee shop. Also, the daughter was going to alert me immediately the next time he was seen. If I could, I would drop what I was doing and get over there ASAP.
My periodic canvass of nearby coffee shops was hit-and-miss and I did not find this guy sipping coffee nearby. But, a few weeks later I got a call from daughter who told me the guy was there NOW!
I was in my office working on a background check for a business client and was able to put that aside and head directly to the coffee shop. It took me about 20 minutes to get to the coffee shop and I ordered my coffee (I got a large one because I figured I might be there for a while). I discretely watched this guy while he nursed his coffee. He must have been real thirsty that day because he actually paid for a second cup and this time I noticed that he used a debit card.
On this day, he stayed in the coffee shop for more than 4-hours! I watched him from inside then went outside and watched him from a parking lot. Eventually, he left and I followed. He walked to another nearby coffee shop and went inside but left without ordering anything. He then hailed down a taxi and since I was on foot I could not follow further.
But because he used a debit card to buy his second cup of coffee, the coffee shop had his debit card number and from that I might be able to find out who he was. Was it a prepaid card obtained with a fictitious name? I took the name from the credit card transaction and used one of my data bases to obtain a photo that matched the name on the debit card. The photo matched the creepy guy!
Creepy Guy Identified
I then conducted a comprehensive background check on this man and I was shocked at who he was. He was not a homeless person or just someone who was socially awkward. He had served time in FEDERAL PRISON for kidnapping a petite teenager and transporting her across state lines. He served a decade in Federal Prison and was still on Federal Parole. I then researched the case and learned that the teen aged victim was able to escape and flee from his van before he had the chance to do anything more to her!
It now became clear to me why this man was fixated on this one particular young lady in this specific coffee shop and why he paid no attention to other women working in the same shop. He had a predilection for young looking petite females who matched a certain physical profile. He was stalking her! Maybe he was only stalking her in his mind or maybe he was just working up the nerve to take the next step. Whatever he was planning, it was not good.
When I informed my client and his daughter what I discovered they were even more concerned – and rightly so. They asked for my advice on what to do. After all, daughter had already reported this to management and her concern was not taken seriously.
This was no ‘mom & pop’ coffee shop. It was a "Big-Time" national chain. Surely, they must have some security personnel who could investigate this further. I offered to bring this to the attention of the coffee shop management and offered daughter some personal safety advice.
What happened . . .
What happened after I notified the coffee shop management of who this creepy guy was and his background was and what he was doing? The coffee shop’s response was . . . well, I think it could best be described as "inept." What happened after I notified the local police?
I found a nationwide "Customer Service" number for this coffee company on their website (the only number that appeared on the website) and called. I explained who I was and explained what I knew about this situation. I let the representative know that the daughter had reported this to her supervisor and the company took no action whatsoever.
I suggested that the company might want to take some action and at the very least they might want to "trespass" this guy from this particular establishment. To her credit the representative agreed with me that this was a serious situation and said she would let her supervisor know about it right away. She gave me a "customer service ticket number" and said someone would be contacting me soon.
One week passed . . . two weeks passed . . . and I heard nothing from the company. I was in contact with daughter and learned this creepy guy was still coming into the coffee shop and doing his thing. When I asked her if anyone from the company had contacted her, she said "No." This concerned me.
I have been a supervisor and manager and I know that there are some very basic things management should promptly do when someone brings a safety issue like this to the attention of management. Considering that management had been notified, there is also some serious potential liability should this creepy guy eventually confront and assault the daughter on the job or while she was traveling to and from her worksite. I am sure there are even some sharp lawyers who could make a good argument that even if this guy harmed the daughter on her day off away from the job, that the failure of the company to take any action once they were notified of the gravity of the situation, might cause the company to incur some liability. At the very least, if this guy ended up assaulting daughter this could be very damaging publicity for this company.
I get paid to get things done . . .
I get paid to "get things done" so I took it to the next level. I obtained the address of the CEO of this company and wrote a nice, professional letter explaining the situation. Of course, I mentioned that their employee notified her supervisor about this and was "blown-off." I also mentioned that I had notified the company via "Customer Service" and was told someone would contact me and no one did. And, in my letter, I mentioned that in my humble opinion, if this convicted kidnapper and Federal Parolee acted on his perverse urges the company might incur liability. And, at the very least, they would surely receive negative publicity.
This got a response! The company’s Global Director of Security called me and agreed that this was a serious situation and said he got ahold of me as soon as he was informed. I did not mention that maybe their "supervisors" need some training on how to deal with worker complains of safety concerns or ask why my Customer Service Ticket went unaddressed.
Although the Director of Security seemed responsive he did not seem to know what actions he could or should take considering that the "creepy" guy had not actually committed a crime at their establishment. I suggested a few things that included:
* Someone in management immediately contact the daughter and let her know that the company values her as an employee.
* Assure the employee that they will take immediate steps to ensure her safety at work and develop protocols to deal with this and similar situations that may arise in the future.
* Give Lead-Workers and supervisors some modicum of training on how to deal with security concerns involving co-workers.
* Contact the "creepy" guy (maybe accompanied by unformed security or local police) and let him know in no uncertain terms that because of his behavior (taking 4+ hours to drink one cup of coffee & ogling/stalking a specific employee inside and outside the establishment & watching the employee as she took the trash out) that he was no longer wanted as a customer and was prohibited from entering this establishment ever again.
* Contact other company stores nearby to see if this guy has been stalking any other employee.
* Contact other company stores nearby and notify them that this guy has been banned from ever setting foot in any of their coffee shops and let on-scene supervisors know what they should do if this guy does show up.
The Director of Security thought all of my suggestions were good and said he would get right on it.
I checked back with my client and the daughter and learned that the Directory of Security did the things I suggested and the creepy guy has not been seen since. They were both very pleased.
What happened when I notified local police?
My thought was that even though this guy had not yet committed a crime at the coffee shop, the police should know about him so they could keep him on their radar. At a minimum, they should do a thorough "work-up" on him and see if he might be linked to any sex or female victim crimes in the area or other areas where he is known to frequent. The police should also notify this guy’s parole officer. The parole officer needs to know what he is doing and his stalking actions might even be a violation of his parole terms. The parole officer could also inform the guy that he is not to go into any of this company’s coffee shops ever again.
When I notified the police, I got no response. My voice mails and emails went unanswered. When I finally got someone to answer the phone I was told to send an email! Well . . . I did send another email but I sent the email to the Assistant Police Chief whom I knew from my law enforcement days. I followed-up this email with an old-fashioned letter in the mail. If I did not get a response at this level I was going to go up the chain of command to the police Chief who I actually worked with back in the day. If I received no response at the Chief’s level, I was going to contact the Police Commissioner.
Hard to believe, but I suddenly got a swift response from the police. A detective called me and apologized for the initial non-response. The detective took all the pertinent information and promised to follow-up with the parole officer.
Like I said, "I get paid to get things done."
After the police contacted the creepy guy he was never seen at this coffee shop again. Client was pleased and a convicted sex offender was likely prevented form victimizing another woman. Case closed.