On Tuesday, a fight broke out among four young men in the area of the Roxbury, Mass., Social Security office, according to law enforcement officials. Three of the men, ranging in ages from 17 to 21, were stabbed--one died from his injuries and two were sent to the hospital. Police chased the suspect, and a police officer working on a detail for a movie filming nearby helped to capture him. The Federal Protective Services (FPS) officer inside locked down the office to protect the customers and SSA employees, and OIG quickly arrived on the scene.
We don’t yet know whether the assailant in Roxbury is a Social Security beneficiary, but the stress of financial and medical issues that beneficiaries and applicants face have driven people to violence before. In 2010, a 66-year-old man with a shotgun entered the Federal Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas and opened fire in the crowded lobby, killing two people and injuring another. His fury was with SSA and the loss of his California state supplement of $317 per month when he moved to Nevada. He had sued the agency and lost.
SSA is processing more disability applications than ever, which means more traffic in SSA offices. Employee and visitor safety is the highest priority for OIG which, together with the FPS and local law enforcement, has jurisdiction over SSA workplaces. From October 2011 through May of 2012, we received 1,033 allegations related to employee safety, and of those, 738 were associated with threats against SSA employees or buildings, and 295 involved assault or harassment. OIG has opened 63 investigations in that time.
Threats and violence against SSA employees are serious crimes prosecuted in Federal court. SSA employees and contractors are protected by the Social Security Protection Act of 2004, which spells out the law and the steps for dealing with threats. Recently, the OIG produced a training video with SSA, to help prepare SSA employees to deal with threats and incidents.
It’s an unfortunate reality that such training is necessary, but OIG will continue to work in every conceivable way to protect SSA employees and visitors to SSA offices.
For more information on SSA’s employee safety accomplishments, visit our YouTube video “Audit Report on Threats Against SSA Employees."