In this episode, Mike talks to personal security expert Jeff McKissack about violence inside and outside of the workplace and a few simple tools employers can share with employees to help them avoid violent crime and exploitation. They discuss the leading source of violence in the workplace, the importance of situational awareness, and what employers should be doing to mitigate some of the damage from dumb things an employee might do.


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Jeff McKissack

Jeff McKissack is a noted authority in the area of violence and exploitation prevention. For years he worked with an investigative reporter for the national media interviewing criminals to determine ‘how’ they did what they did versus ‘why.’
For over 30 years, Jeff has spoken to conferences and conventions across the country, provided onsite employee training as well as continuing education training, and offered numerous value-add events for key industries seeking to deepen their connection with their clients.
However, Jeff best sums up his mission and message by saying, “my goal is to help you spot trouble ‘before’ trouble spots you.” In today’s world, that is a message that should resonate with us all both personally and professionally.

1 Comment

  1. Robert Smolak

    There were so many good points in this podcast. In particular, offering safety training not only to employees but to their spouses and children as well.


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Jeff McKissack: The CEO had seen some of these segments where Ken and I were luring these people on camera. So, he wanted to talk to us about maybe doing some training for his employees. He invited us up. We sit in his office, and he says, “Oh, I’ve been watching you guys do these lures. Oh my gosh, it was incredible. I thought this would be a great value add to offer to our people here that have children.” And Ken said, “Well, that’s very magnanimous of you but you did see we were luring adults.” He leans back in his chair and utters those famous words, “I think my people know better than to take candy from strangers.” Ken leans forward in his chair and says, “You want to bet? You guys make surveillance equipment here for the government, right?” “Yeah.” “Why don’t you loan Jeff and I one of your surveillance vans. Let’s see how many of your people we can lure in an hour.” We lured six people the next day in an hour.
[intro music]
Mike Coffey: Good Morning, HR. I’m Mike Coffey and this is the podcast where I talk to business leaders about bringing people together to create value for shareholders, customers and the community.
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Jeff McKissack is President of Defense by Design, a consulting and training firm focused on threat assessment, self-defense and violent crime prevention. In addition to speaking at conferences and other learning events across the US, Jeff regularly conducts safety awareness training for his corporate clients’ employees. He will also be the speaker at Fort Worth HR’s November 17th luncheon.
Welcome to Good Morning, HR, Jeff.
Jeff McKissack: Thank you for having me, Mike.
Mike Coffey: So, what is Defense by Designs main message for your audience?
Jeff McKissack: Well, I’ve used as a tagline over the years. My goal is to help you spot trouble before trouble spots you. Now, what is that trouble depends upon what kind of industry, what kind of profession, what kind of job description we’re talking about? So, if we were talking about a traditional office setting where you have employees in the office, that may be one type of training. But more and more, I’m being called upon for companies that have employees out in the field where there are no cameras, alarms, access control, various [inaudible] that help provide those kind of safety features in the traditional office environment.
So, their trains can be very, very different. Then of course, you have the hybrid of those two type of scenarios, which call for more 50/50 approach. But the whole idea again, in summary, I know it sounds trite but it’s true. It’s not cliche. It truly is the goal of what I do is to help you spot trouble before. That’s the key phrase because prevention is only prevention if seen and acted on through the eyes of foresight, not hindsight.
Mike Coffey: So, give me some examples of the kind of trouble you’re talking about then?
Jeff McKissack: Well, I’ll give you an example. I had a gentleman a while back, he owns a carpet cleaning business and one of his guys was out to clean carpets. And so, he had the dirty water in his van. He stopped by one of these public self-service car washes to dump the dirty water into the drain. He pulls in broad daylight. Nice part of the Dallas Fort Worth area. Pulls in and all of a sudden, two cars swoop in on both sides of the car wash bay and block him in. There was no one else there. It was just him. He was in a public place, but no other part of the public was around. These guys roughed him up and stole $15,000 worth of equipment off his van.
Now, was there a way to see that before it happened? Potentially, because again, one of the things I just hinted at. Just because you’re in a public place, doesn’t mean the public’s around. So, even though you are in a nice part of town and you’re in a public place, you have to survey to say, “Hey, if something weird just happened here, do I have the chance of anybody coming to my aid?” Just that pause for thought alone could have saved him from a hospital trip as well as all the insurance claims they had to file afterwards.
Mike Coffey: Okay. So, that’s outside of an office area. What’s an example of trouble in a workplace?
Jeff McKissack: Well, the number one, according to the American Society of Industrial Security is when domestic violence manifests as workplace violence. And this is someone’s spouse, ex-spouse, paramore, stalker, whatever the case may be, who knows where the person works and who knows where the person’s going to be from X AM to X PM and shows up to either voice their opinion, shall we say, or exact their revenge.
And again, that’s according to the American Society of Industrial Security is the number one cause of workplace violence is when domestic violence manifests in the workplace. And there are red flags that abound. Unfortunately, most individuals, let’s face it, most women don’t necessarily feel comfortable going to management with those personal home dramas to make it known that, “I just had to get a restraining order against my ex.” And consequently, when that trouble comes knocking, no one was privy to it. So, everyone was caught off guard.
Mike Coffey: Sure. That’s interesting because, Imperative, my company is a background screening company and we deal with family offices and families all over the country, domestic staffing companies that are putting people in people’s homes. And obviously, if you’re hiring a nanny to take care of your kids or pay somebody to drive your kids around or even your own chef who’s going to be in your house pretty unsupervised most of the time, you want a pretty thorough background check and that’s who we cater to. But what’s very interesting is, especially on the nannies and people doing caregiving to children, we search for civil restraining orders and protective orders filed not against the nanny, but by the nanny because it sounds awful that she’s got this stalker or this crazy spouse who’s making her life miserable.
But if I want to have somebody taking my kids out in public, then I want to know if this employee has a stalker or something like that. Sometimes it costs that person, that nanny, a job opportunity. We’ve dealt with a number of really high well families that just said, “No, that’s not a risk we’re willing to take.” And I totally understand. I feel really horrible for that person, for the applicant or the candidate. But in reality, if I’m hiring somebody to care for my kids, my kids’ security is the number one priority. So, it’s interesting that as this says, that domestic violence is one of the major sources of workplace violence.
Jeff McKissack: Well, and to coin the words of Shakespeare, “To fear the worst oft cures the worst.
Mike Coffey: Hmm. Yeah. That makes sense.
Jeff McKissack: You have to think in terms of worst-case scenarios in order to reverse engineer to create best case scenarios.
Mike Coffey: Okay. And do we run a risk of just making our employees really paranoid all the time if we start talking about this stuff in the workplace?
Jeff McKissack: No. In fact, obviously this has come up. I’ve been doing this for 34 years now and obviously, it’s come up over the years, whether I’m talking to parents about their kids, whether I’m talking to employers about their employees. Whatever the case may be. “Well, is this going to make my people more afraid?” No. The exact opposite. The fear comes from the unknown. The more you empower your people to know what to look for, who to look out for, the things to listen for, the things to look for, the more you give them that level of empowerment, the more aware they become. Awareness will always replace fear.
Mike Coffey: That’s good. And then when you’ve got that awareness, if you’ve given them certain… What are some tools that you give employees or even a parent can give their kids to avoid being a victim of some sort of violent crime or exploitation or whatever?
Jeff McKissack: Well, it even got to the point and now, anytime I’m doing employee training, one of the things I always include is an evening seminar for spouses and teenagers of the employees of the company. And the reason I did that is over a period of years, I kept having people coming up to me between sessions because normally I’m there for a half day, full day, multi days, repeating the presentations to allow for different staff to come in at different times.
And numerous times, I was having staff come out and going, “I so wish my husband, my wife, my teenager have been here to hear what you say,” because everything I’m telling them professionally, applies to them personally. There is that double effect. And so, I kept hearing it so many times over the years. Just one of the common value adds I now offer at no charge to the companies is whenever you bring in a week or so later, if it’s local, if it’s out of town, obviously I have to do it the same day, but I offer that extra evening program for the spouses and teens so that everyone… It truly becomes a family type of experience, which is a great value add for the company as well to offer something like that to the staff that they have.
Mike Coffey: So, is your training mostly scenario based or are there some key rules that people should just be aware of all the time?
Jeff McKissack: I preach my principal. And the reason being, it goes back to the man that trained me. My mentor was an investigative reporter and producer for 2020, 60 minutes on NBC News. His name was Ken Wooden. He interviewed Bundy, Lucas, Gacy and most of the of names we know in crime history. And when he had a chance to interview over a thousand of these convicted criminals in prisons and mental hospitals over a 10-year period, he didn’t ask them why they did what they did.
He asked them how they did what they did. And from that, he developed the Child Lures Crime Prevention Program, which taught the 13 basic lures that criminals used to lure kids. So, I was trained by the man that taught me to use and work in terms of principles because scenarios will abound. You can never cover all the, what ifs. What you can do is ingrain and instill principles within people so that they know that “Okay, someone is asking for my help. Whether that’s something to get something to the car, to help them get something to the car, because they say that there’s an emergency.”
Whatever the case may be. Someone is asking for my help but here’s the key. I don’t know the someone. Male or female, young or old, none of these things matter. The principle is someone I don’t know is asking for my help. Now, how do we filter our response?
So, it’s learning to recognize certain principles that come in play. And I’ve often told people over the years, it’s not a gun or knife that will get you because that’s an overt threat. It’s the covert threat of a good story because he and I, years ago, for Oprah, 2020, Good Morning, America, Today Show and numerous national outlets as well as some local outlets around the country.
We collectively lured over 200 men and women into cars and vans to show how easy it was to lure grown adults into a car with a total stranger using only a good story. And that was just in that type of “scenario.” There’s so many other ways when we talk about fiscal threats, when we talk about data security and when we talk about reputational threats. Numerous things come into play but I always teach by honing in on the principles because you’ll never remember all the what ifs, but you can remember the principles.
Mike Coffey: So, let’s go through just a few of those principles then. What do you think the most important one would be?
Jeff McKissack: Well, there’s specifically lures but there are certain mantras I’ve had over the years, and I try to instill within people. One of them is there are no such things as safe or unsafe places, only safe or unsafe people. Because too many times, we have this paradigm that we’ve set up and you see it, evidence on the news all the time. Something bad happens in a certain nice area. And somehow the report will always find that one person in the crowd that they interview and say, “What do you think about this?” And something to this effect, we’ve all heard it. “Oh, I can’t believe something like that happened here because where we live shop, play, see movies is so safe.” We have made our safety dependent upon places. Places are neutral. People are not.
So, rather than focusing on where you are, start focusing on who you’re around or who is around you. But that means we don’t only have to look around. More importantly with our modern device in our hands, we need to occasionally look up. We live in such a distracted world now and that’s one of the two things that predators… I don’t care if we’re talking about two legged or four legged.
Predators in general, look for opportunity and vulnerability. And both of those can be found when we use the word distraction. That offers a would-be predator, both opportunity and it shows them vulnerability when you are simply not in the moment. Not even not paying attention. When you’re not in the moment. And so, that’s one of the first things we try to instill within people. Stop paying attention to where you are. Start paying attention to who you’re around and who’s around you, which means looking up before you start looking around.
Mike Coffey: And that’s real key, right?
Jeff McKissack: Of course.
Mike Coffey: And gun safety training is one of the first things that they teach you is, especially when you’re carrying, you’ve got a responsibility to be alert and aware of what’s going on around you.
Jeff McKissack: I had a financial company bring me in as a value add to some of their clients and this husband-and-wife couple came up to me at the end. They said, “All right, we’re going to confess. We’re both CHL owners. We were leaving the mall one day and we were both in this heated argument, going to the car. We’re sitting the car and still having this argument with the car doors open. All of a sudden, somebody wrapped on the hood of our car. We turned over and this guy was like, ‘Excuse me. You guys look really nice. I was just wondering if you had a few extra dollars.'” Now, he didn’t mean them any harm, but it shook both the husband and wife because what it said was, despite all their training, despite their licensing, despite what they both had on their hip, none of that would’ve helped them in that moment when they were distracted. They weren’t in the moment.
Mike Coffey: Let’s take a quick break.
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If you’re an HRCI or SHRM certified professional, this episode of Good Morning, HR has been pre-approved for one half hour of recertification credit. To obtain the recertification information, visit www.goodmorning and click on Re-cert Credits. Then select Episode 17 and enter the keyword SECURITY.
On November 17th, Jeff and I will both be speaking at Fort Worth HRs monthly education event. During the legal hour, I’ll discuss legal and practical background check considerations. During the luncheon, Jeff will be discussing how to avoid the kinds of offsite and onsite behavior that can get employees and employers in the courtroom and the newsroom. You can register for that event at
And now back to my conversation with Jeff McKissack.
What kind of mistakes do you think employers make that get their employees in unsafe situations?
Jeff McKissack: That’s easy. And the reason I laugh is, because again, I’ve got stories that come to mind after 34 years of doing this. The biggest one is, “My people know better.” Years ago and again, I had to lapse in story time but it’s only because I got great stories. Years ago, a certain CEO of a certain big, big, big government company here in the Dallas Fort Worth area that used to be owned by Ross Perot. That should narrow it down a little bit. I’m not going to mention it but you get the idea. The CEO had seen some of these segments where Ken and I were luring these people on camera. So, he wanted to talk us about maybe doing some training for his employees.
So, he invited us up. We sit in his office. He says, “Oh, I’ve been watching you guys do these lures. Oh my gosh, it was incredible. I thought this would be a great value add to offer to our people here that have children.” And Ken said, “Well, that’s very magnanimous of you but you did see we were luring adults.” He leans back in his chair and utters those famous words, “I think my people know better than to take candy from strangers.” Ken leans forward in his chair and says, “You want to bet? You guys make surveillance equipment here for the government, right?” “Yeah.” “Why don’t you loan Jeff and I one of your surveillance vans. Let’s see how many of your people we can lure in an hour.” We lured six people the next day in an hour.
And one of them, they had their own credit union on the campus. Well, the first person we lured was the 16-year-old daughter whose father was president of the credit union. Forget robbing the place. We’ll just abduct her and have daddy bring the money home. So, there was a security risk right there, but one of the other people we lured… It was a whole funny story. I’m not going to elaborate on the whole thing. I may tell it at Fort Worth HR. But one of the guys that we lured was the courier for ATM machines. So, when he got into our car, he did so with a bag with $250,000 in cash in the bag when he got in our car.
Mike Coffey: Wow.
Jeff McKissack: “But my people know better.”
Mike Coffey: Yeah. Isn’t it crazy?
Jeff McKissack: What happens when we break down that word, assume?
Mike Coffey: Right? Yeah, exactly. So, if I’m an employer and certainly, we want to do training. As far as physical barriers and lighting, how much is that stuff really helpful to employees versus… Let’s say we get our employees aware. Can you talk about other safety factors that employers should consider?
Jeff McKissack: Well, there’s certain other risks if we want to use that term. In other words, yes. We have physical risks. We have some cases, fiscal risk. If you’re dealing with money and exchange of money. Yeah. There are certain things that can come into play there. There’s also in a world of data security, we have informational risks, and I don’t deal in the world of cyber threat, but I deal with data security.
Now, I actually spoke at a conference here in DFW a few years ago and the guy putting it together and that invited me, he said, “Wait a second. We’ve invited you to speak but you don’t talk about cyber security?” I said, “No, but I talk about data security.” He said, “Well, paint me an idiot but what’s the difference?” I said, “I don’t deal with the people that hack your computers. I deal with the people who hack your people.”
I either use impersonation, bribery or blackmail to get the information I want from the inside out. Forget all your firewalls, forget all your antivirus. I’ll somehow compromise someone on the inside to give me the information I want. He went, “Okay. Never talked about that before. So, now I get why we’re having you speak.” So, there are those kinds of informational risks. Then you have, today, I think one of the biggest areas of risk coming on, and it definitely affects HR because many times they could be the one in the hot seat over this is when some employee, on or off the clock, gets in some type of confrontation that then lands the employer on camera answering for that employees off the clock, offsite behavior.
And I just think of one that happened to Kaiser Permanente just about two months ago. One of their employees got into a Karen confrontation, if you will, out in the San Diego area to the point that she was wearing one of their shirts caught on camera. The video went viral. The head of public relations from Kaiser Permanente then had to issue a statement to the national news because what one employee did offsite, off the clock, but on camera. So, there’s so many different risks. And then it comes back to, “Who was it that hired this person?” And we all know, people are people, and you can do all the background checks but still doesn’t speak to future behavior. It only speaks to past. So, things happen and change in people’s lives and their temperaments and their relationships that can cause all kinds of things to come to the surface. But there again, who’s got to answer for it? Especially answer for it potentially to the media, if not the courtroom.
Mike Coffey: So, how does an employer predict that somebody is a risk?
Jeff McKissack: You can’t predict it but you can have those kind of candid conversations with your people saying, “Listen, you are a representative of this company on and off the clock. So, understand that if someone, especially when you see the camera on in front of you, that you are being recorded in the moment, that is where you just disengage and walk away. You don’t need to say anything else. You certainly don’t need to do anything else. When the cameras come out, it’s time to go.” I tell people when the greatest criminal profilers in the world, was actually the country Western singer, Kenny Rogers. What were his infamous, now classic words? “You got to know when to hold them. Know when to fold them. Know when to walk away and know when to run.” That’s great advice and especially in the world of social media.
Mike Coffey: So, that’s PR strategy 101. Okay. That’s interesting.
Jeff McKissack: And HR. People in HR are bound. If you try to separate them, you’re going to injure both.
Mike Coffey: Yeah. That’s great. That’s good. So, if an employee is out there and let’s say something bad has happened. We’ve seen those situations recently with employees who have an altercation publicly and they’re, like you said, they’re in a company t-shirt or even after they’ve done something stupid. Everybody’s got a camera right here and it starts filming and it goes viral. What to do then? What is an employer to do at that point when somebody’s already done something stupid, and we need to protect the company?
Jeff McKissack: There’s no easy answer to that because now you’re talking reaction, not prevention. I live in the world of prevention where I’m trying to get people to think ahead. Again, to fear the worst oft cures the worst. I go back to those words of Shakespeare. So, you have to not assume that your people know how to act as grownups when they’re off the clock.
You got to have some very candid conversations with them saying, again, “These are things. These are the rules of the road that we expect, whether you are here on the clock or you’re off the clock. But certainly, if you’re off the clock and these types of things occur, understand that you are a representative of this company, and we may be called to answer on your behavior. We want to do so with a moral high ground. So, that’s why we’re providing this training, so you know what we expect of you.”
That way, if the situation folds as you’re describing, that way they do have at least a leg to stand on saying, “Hey, yes. This may have happened, but we have done extensive training in this area. This employee colored outside of the lines. Clearly because they were trained how to handle this type of situation. They did not do so. They were not acting on our behalf the way that we had trained them to do.” At least that gives you somewhat of a moral high ground to respond in that type of instance.
Mike Coffey: It seems fair enough. If only the public is going to give us the benefit of the doubt.
Jeff McKissack: The thing is… Seriously, I’m not saying this tritely. I seriously, most public, if they felt that the person truly had been taught, talked to, et cetera, communicated with, and they did not follow the protocol, I think the company gets a pass. Even in the world that we live in of cancel culture, social media, wherever you want to call it. I think you get a pass because that’s the ultimate, “You were warned. The company did what they did. They did their due diligence. You were the one that chose to take an alternate path. That’s not on the company. That’s on you. You knew better.”
Mike Coffey: Right. And so, how we select our employees and how we train them on an ongoing basis makes a big difference when whatever happens, happens.
Jeff McKissack: This too, and you deal with HR as I do. This is where things have to be updated for employee handbooks. This is not something I do but I’m just saying. Something that I definitely admonished that more HR professionals do is if you don’t have a handbook for your employees, please develop one because you have to have things in writing. I tell people, “If you’re ever called in court, understand every judge and jury come from Missouri.” What’s their slogan? “Show me.” It’s the show me state. Don’t tell me what you did. Show me what you did, how you did it, why you did it, who was involved in it? How often you repeat it for turnover. All those things come into play if called into court, but you still have the court of public opinion. So, the best thing to do is always put things in writing. Whatever your expectations are, the only way to truly manage those expectations is to put it in writing.
Mike Coffey: And are you seeing employers put anything specific to these kind of public events that in the-
Jeff McKissack: A very company. 800 locations, I know of. I talked to one of their HR people. When it came to the domestic violence, he said, “Jeff, we caught onto this some time ago.” It’s a national restaurant chain. You would all know their name. And I was sitting at lunch one day. I’d spoken to the National Restaurant Association for one of their risk management conferences. This HR director said, “You were talking about domestic violence, Jeff. It used to be a real problem in our restaurant check. But what we did is we not only did the employee handbook, but the more important things like you said, we talked to them. We talked to these young ladies because predominantly, it was their paramours that were coming. Not exactly in any kind of physical harm but the altercations and verbal exchanges they were having in our family restaurants weren’t creating a very nice family atmosphere.”
“But we talked them. We said, ‘Listen, we understand this isn’t your fault. Come to us. We will help you. We have enough locations. We can play the shell game. We can move you to a different location. We can change your hours. Travel is a problem? We’ll help you. Childcare problem? We’ll help you but we can only help you if you tell us what’s going on.'”
He said, “Since that change,” about six years prior, he said, “Do we still have a case here with 800 locations? Yeah but is it what we had six years ago? Nowhere near.” So, there are things that people can do. And I think when you change those like this company did, when you put the heart into it and you put in the communication and you say, “No, we will help you but we can’t help you. Is there drug addiction? Is there a gambling addiction? Is there something going on that could compromise you or someone could compromise you to either give up information, to leave certain doors unlocked to whatever the case may be. If you come to us and let us know, we can help you. But if we find this out later on after you have unfortunately been compromised, there’s not going to be a lot of help at that point.”
Mike Coffey: That makes sense. And if people weren’t choosing bad partners and making bad life decisions, I think you and I would both be out of work.
Jeff McKissack: In that case, I would happily find a new career but it’s not going to happen.
Mike Coffey: No, I don’t think so. I think we’ve got job security.
But that’s all the time we have today. So, thanks for joining me, Jeff.
Jeff McKissack: Well, absolutely. This was a pleasure, Mike, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone on the 17th. Please come out if you get a chance.
Mike Coffey: And as a reminder, if you’re in the Fort Worth area, you can see both Jeff and me speak at Forth Worth’s HR monthly meeting. I’m the warmup show for you. I’m speaking the legal hour-
Jeff McKissack: It’s the Mike and Jeff show, staring Mike and Jeff.
Mike Coffey: So, you can register for that event at
And thank you for listening. You can find previous episodes, show notes and contact info for our guests at or on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. And don’t forget to follow us wherever you get your podcasts.
Rob Upchurch is our technical producer and Imperative’s marketing coordinator, Katy Bautista keeps the trains running on time. And I’m Mike Coffey. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be of service to you personally or professionally. I’ll see you next week. And until then, be well, do good, keep your chin up.