Handling Criminal Incidents in Business: A Guide

By Jared Green, Partner at Goodell DeVries

In the course of business operations, criminal incidents—particularly those concerning workplace violence—unfortunately arise. These incidents may involve, for example, a patron who attacks or threatens an employee, an employee who reacts violently to their manager, or an employee who is experiencing intimate partner violence. In such cases, it’s crucial for the organization to know the appropriate steps to take to ensure employee and customer safety and potentially legal compliance.

Immediate Response: Call the Police

Safety is paramount. When a criminal incident occurs, calling the police should be the first response. This not only ensures immediate assistance, but also provides timely documentation of the incident and allows law enforcement to assess the situation and offer guidance.

Understanding Misdemeanor Arrests

Most criminal incidents in the workplace will be misdemeanors, which are more common and often less serious than felonies. When the crime is a misdemeanor, the police can only arrest the suspect if the crime occurs in their presence or under specific statutory exceptions. If the crime does not occur in police presence, and no exception applies, the police typically will not file criminal charges themselves. Instead, in Maryland, the officers will instruct the victim, whether an individual or a business, on how to file criminal charges against the offender.

Citizen-Initiated Charges in Maryland

In Maryland, private individuals can file criminal charges. Here’s how it works:

  1. Complaint: A citizen can submit an Application for Statement of Charges to a commissioner in the county (or Baltimore City) where the crime occurred. This paperwork is similar to what the police would submit.
  2. Probable Cause: A commissioner will review the application and determine whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. If the commissioner finds probable cause, the individual is charged.
  3. Summons or Warrant: The charge may result in a summons, requiring the individual to appear in court, or an arrest warrant, authorizing the police to arrest the individual.

The Role of the State’s Attorney’s Office

Depending on the county or city, the complainant may need to consult with a prosecutor before charges are filed. Regardless of jurisdiction, the complainant will need to work with the State’s Attorneys’ Office to prosecute the charges. This is because, ultimately, the decision to proceed with criminal charges in Maryland rests with the State’s Attorney’s Office in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. While individuals are victimized, crimes are prosecuted by the State of Maryland through a prosecutor acting on behalf of the State. It can be helpful for a business or individual to have an attorney during these discussions to ensure that all of the necessary information is relayed to the prosecutor and the appropriate decision is made.


Knowing the proper steps to take when a criminal incident occurs in a business setting is crucial for ensuring safety and potentially legal compliance. By understanding the role of the police, the process of citizen-initiated charges, and the involvement of the State’s Attorney’s Office, businesses can better navigate these challenging situations.

If your organization needs assistance identifying potential risks or navigating an existing criminal, civil, or regulatory issue, contact Jared Green at jgreen@gdldlaw.com. Jared is the Chair of Goodell DeVries’ Risk Management, Investigations, and Compliance practice group