Five tips to avoid being a crime victim

by M.D. Creekmore on December 27, 2013 · 32 comments

This is a guest post by WL and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.

We live in a suburb of a large metropolitan area. Our suburb is typically considered safe. Safe enough, in fact, that I know people who leave their first floor windows wide open at night or when they’re gone for the day. Safe enough that people go for a walk around the neighborhood and leave their home unlocked. Safe enough that people warm up their vehicles unsupervised in the winter.

I have a background as a news reporter. I covered the police beats for several nearby suburban local papers; one suburb was surrounded by the “bad side” of the metropolitan proper. I’ve taken a conceal carry course, a “practical” conceal carry follow-up course, and a women’s self-defense course, as well as attended an ALICE training course at my place of work. I intend to take more of such classes. I’ve read several books about personal safety and survival. I work in a school – and am conscious of the safety of our students and staff at all times, am aware of what’s going on around us.

Much of what I write here seems like common sense, yet I’m continually amazed (and saddened) at how many news reports demonstrate that too many people obviously don’t think like me. Please ensure you talk with your children and parents about safety!

1.) Never be totally alone if you can avoid it.

I spent much of my young adult life, prior to being married, alone. As an only child, I’m used to being alone! Once an adult, I lived alone. I shopped alone. I went for walks around my apartment complex and at parks alone. As a college student, I often walked alone across campus or around town. I drove alone. I traveled fair distances alone – to visit my parents or my boyfriend in another city 2 1/2 hours away.

Looking back on it, I can’t believe I took such great risks. I had a can of mace; I don’t even know if it worked and I rarely carried it (it was usually on my bedside table in my apartment). I didn’t own a firearm, had never shot a gun, and I’d never taken a self-defense course. My apartment did not have close-by parking and the path from parking lot to apartment was not well-lighted.

I was quite used to being by myself and apparently that’s still normal: As I drive to work, I pass several parks. I am amazed at the number of individuals, many of whom are women, jogging and walking alone in the early hours of the morning. In the dark. With ear buds crammed into their heads.

Don’t assume that you’re safety is guaranteed anywhere!

Recently, an individual was walking alone after dark on a local bike path and was robbed at gunpoint in what most people consider a “safe” part of a nearby town.

Such incidents are avoidable — don’t be alone!

Many elementary schools have a rule that students must be in pairs (buddy system) at all times. It makes sense when you think about it — if a child falls ill or is injured, a friend or classmate is there to get help. Students should never leave a classmate alone in the locker room, or alone in any room; that way, there are two to witness anything that might happen.

The buddy system isn’t just for children: Be with someone you know as much as possible. Travel with a friend. Walk with a friend or coworker as much as you can. If you and a neighbor arrive home at the same time, make it a habit to get know that person well and walk toward your homes at the same time. Make sure someone knows where you are at all times, when to expect you home.

If you can’t avoid being alone, ensure you know how to protect yourself. Carry mace or pepper spray and know how to use it. Consider getting your conceal carry and take many, many classes and get as much instruction in the use of your firearm as you can. Take a basic self-defense course — then consider enrolling in a martial arts class. You can never be too safe.

2.) Be aware of what’s going on around you, always.

Experts call this “situational awareness”, but I call it being aware of LIFE. Know what the normal condition is for where you are. Are you in a work parking lot? Do you recognize cars that are always there every day, or do you walk while texting on your phone or staring at your feet on the pavement?

Look around you! Notice which cars are typical for your work or apartment complex parking lot — people are habitual, they’ll usually park in or near the same spot every day. Only when you’re familiar with the “normal” will you notice if something is “out of place”.

Get to know people you see regularly. Know your coworkers (and their spouses or children if they frequently visit). Don’t just recognize their faces — really get to know them! Be nosy — have lunch with them, talk with them at break time or in the hall or in the restroom, while walking across the parking lot at the start or end of the day. Ask questions — do they have kids/grandkids/pets? What are their hobbies? Do they read? What kinds of books do they like? What’s their favorite show? Get them talking, get to know them. They are your allies in this world!

3.) Listen to your instincts.

This is one right out of “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker – the concept was repeatedly discussed at my self-defense class.

Background: I worked at a public library years ago, shelving books in all the departments. There were some of the nicest people who visited the library frequently. And there were also some of the creepiest people that hung out there, daily. Men who, when I’d walk past them, gave me “the willies”: the hair on my arms would stand up, I’d get a shiver up my spine, and I wanted immediately to run away. Interestingly, I had co-workers who said they felt the same way about the same people.

Got the “willies” or the feeling that someone is “creepy” or that something “just isn’t right”? This is your body’s natural warning system. Humans are animals: we have instincts and senses, too: we’ve just been socially trained to ignore such feelings.

Don’t ignore your feelings, don’t ignore your intuition. If someone gives you the creeps or doesn’t seem “right”, get away from them instantly. Find a safe place where there are many people, or police, or security officers, and be aware if the creepy person follows you.

4.) Don’t ever leave belongings in plain sight in your car.

This is something I learned the hard way: my car was broken into when I was in college. They wanted my stereo system (it said “Pioneer” on it). They took my cassette tape carry-case (hey, this was in the 1980s!), my spare change, and a duffel bag (which contained a pair of dirty socks and a pair of jeans that had a rip in the crotch). After that, I learned never to leave anything in sight — it’s just temptation for those not-so-nice people looking into car windows. (I put black electrical tape over the brand name of my stereo and speakers, too, since the stereo and speakers were black plastic.)

As a police beat newspaper reporter after college, I was always flabbergasted at the number of people who would leave purses, wallets, or other valuables in their cars, in plain sight, even if only for a minute or two while they ran into a shop or store — and then were surprised to return to their vehicle to find their belongings gone.

Your purse, wallet, briefcase, backpack, keys (and your cell phone, tablet, or laptop) should NEVER be left anywhere — they should always be with you.

5.) Lock up!

Locks have a purpose and they don’t fulfill their purpose if you don’t use them.

When you walk into or out of your house: lock the door behind you. Always close the garage overhead door.

When you get into your car, lock the doors immediately. When you leave your car, always close your car windows and lock the doors.

If you are sitting out on the back patio, ensure your front door is locked. Make sure your front windows aren’t wide open for someone to easily pop the screen out and enter that way. (I read a police report recently about residents in a nearby suburb who were robbed, at gunpoint: they’d been on their back patio during the late evening hours, the dog was in the house and started barking. The owners walked into the house and right into a man with a gun standing in their front room. The front door had been left open and unlocked.)

If you’re to be away at work (or home asleep), and you wish to leave second floor windows open, ensure they’re not easily reached from a nearby tree, a roof line, or fire escape. Use the “part-way-open” locks many newer windows have that allow you to have the window open, but not open far enough that someone could climb into the open window, or open it further. Close your blinds.

Don’t leave items near windows, in plain sight, in your home (such as computers or large screen televisions to be easily seen by passersby); don’t leave televisions on screened porches.

Do leave lights on outside and inside your home.

Simple, common sense habits can keep you and your family from becoming a crime victim. It takes minimal thought and effort to ingrain these routines into your lifestyle, but that effort is worth it.

Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive – Two (2) Just In Case… Classic Assortment Survival Food Buckets courtesy of LPC Survival, a $150 gift certificate for Remington ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner, aWonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and a Survival Puck courtesy of Innovation Industries, LLC.
  2. Second place winner will receive – One case of Future Essentials Canned Organic Green Costa Rican Monte Crisol Coffee courtesy of Campingsurvival.com and Solo Stove and Solo Pot Courtesy of EmergencyFoodWarehouse.com.
  3. Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net, a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net and a Wolf Pack Coffee Mug Jumbo Mug courtesy of Horton Design.

Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on January 15 2014

32 comments

patientmomma December 27, 2013 at 10:35 am

Well done! Good common sense actions CAN make a difference.

Another action is when you get in your car, immediately lock the doors and start the engine. Women are especially bad at looking at receipts, putting stuff in their purses, and spending precious minutes being unaware. If someone was intend on carjacking/robbery, you stand a better chance of getting away with the doors locked and engine running; even if you have to cause an accident to get attention and help.

If you have a garage, park the “kid car” in it, and don’t open the garage door until kids are secured in their seats, doors are locked, engine started and adult ready to drive. I know a woman who was carjacked with her two children in the car, when she opened the garage door but then went back in the house for something!

When going to the mall or parking in a large lot, act like you are mad and put your “mean face” on. Walk with a “stomp” and with purpose and be focused. It is generally accepted that angry looking people are less prone to attack, but those who are distracted, look “friendly” and
“soft/helpless” are robbed, kidnapped or attacked more frequently.

Mari December 29, 2013 at 11:42 am

Speaking of car doors, there’s one thing on my new Hyundai — all the doors unlock when I turn off the ignition. Perhaps it was meant to be a safety feature to enable people to exit a vehicle in case of crash or whatever. So in a not-good area (including a mall), I have to hit the lock button and stay locked down until I’m ready to exit.

Wen December 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Mari, you may be able to de-program that feature. Our car has it, too, but we were able to deprogram it. I told my hubby that I hated that as soon as I turned off the ignition, or when I opened the drivers side door, all the doors unlocked. That’s not a good thing. It made me feel very unsafe. Check your car’s owner’s manual to see if you can deprogram it.

JP in MT December 27, 2013 at 11:09 am

Excellent reminds. My DW sometimes feels like I am harping on her about situational awareness. But it is because I care that I keep it up. I won’t always be there and I can’t do it all even when I am.

I also believe in “listen to your instincts”. I believe that we do have a way on understanding what our environment is telling us unconsciously. Call it what you will, but if something gives you “the willies”, leave. Don’t completely turn your back and ignore it.

worrisome December 27, 2013 at 11:22 am

When the weather allows, I always take the dogs with me when I am out and about. Hope has already run off one guy who came walking up to my car at a stoplight. He didn’t know she was in there until he got pretty close and was starting to bang on the window…………then she became a very scary 120# creature. I have mace and a zapper in the car and always have my ccw along.

This is what I use in my back seat to control the dog hair. I am not in any way affiliated with the sellers. http://www.inthecompanyofdogs.com/itemdy00.aspx?ID=17,473&T1=D31025

Schatzie Ohio December 27, 2013 at 9:06 pm

We have something like your dog hammock only we bought ours from Duluth Trading Co. a number of years ago. It comes in black, gray & khaki colors and is now going for $49.50.

worrisome December 28, 2013 at 12:30 am

Schatzie……….I wish I had known :) This one has been washed over and over and is holding up well, but I will remember your comment in the event I need another one. Thanks!

Lurker Judith December 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Well done article.
I would like to add that because of the way my property is situated with privacy fencing and cross fencing and buildings and sheds etc. I feel in the most danger when returning home from somewhere. We are always on high alert for someone hiding behind something and ready to respond with force if someone is. This is not paranoia. We have already foiled 3 attempts at break ins. And make sure no one follows you to your house from the bank etc.

rjarena December 27, 2013 at 12:03 pm

The big problem you had when you were young is what most kids have, the innocence of youth, feeling invincible, that the world is a friendly trusting place. You have made good suggestions, I would also throw another thing or two in the ring, waiting to the last second to do anything, which makes us careless. If you have to get up a few minutes early so everything you need to do, locking doors, putting things away, etc, is completed so be it. the same people that forget/don’t have time to lock a car door are the same ones putting on make up or eating a bowl of cereal(saw that last month) while driving. another thing we need to think about is the constant attachment to an electronic gizmo, it puts you in your own little world, and you do not notice the unsavory characters following you, or the hazard you may walk into. So texting may be ok in some situations and having those ear buds with your favorite tunes also, but it isolates you from the world around you, and most of the time that is not good. Muggers/thieves have said in arrest interviews that their victims presented an opportunity they could not walk away from, totally distracted AND showing objects easy to steal!

Donna in MN December 27, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Weather permitting, I take my GSD Justus and leave him in the car when shopping. No one messes with a barking 140 lb giant protection dog. No one messes with me at my truck either. He also goes on walks with me, but he is there because he’s my companion and protector of bears and wolves, no people around where I walk alone.

PGCPrepper December 27, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Donna,

…no people around where I walk alone.

Must be nice. I’ve hiked almost all of the AT in Virginia and have been within a few yards of a black bear on the trail and confronted many with nothing other than my drill sergeant whistle and felt safer than being at some mall somewhere; to which I do not venture, ever. I’m trying to get where you are.

Reba December 27, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I love this!! I want to go everywhere with my dog. I have a 100# boxer. He LOVES people but where I live everyone is afraid of him!

I live in Panama, in a small beach town on the Pacific coast. All the locals here are petrified of my dog.

I do not keep him outside unsupervised although I have a fenced yard and a gate surrounding my property. If someone wants to break in they just feed the dogs poisonous meat. End of that problem. I could not imagine that happening so he only goes outside when I can watch him.

Otherwise, he is with me almost all the time. When I go to restaurants here, he can come. We go to the beach, he is there by my side. We take a walk, he is there. Some of the locals won’t even pass us if they see him. They are that scared!

But although petty crime is rampant here (theft and robbery or burglary) violent crime is almost non existent and I feel pretty safe.

I do try to walk alone only in daylight hours if necessary. Otherwise I am with my husband or someone else (or my dog). My husband does walk alone quite often at night, coming back from playing beach volleyball and then drinking afterward. The most he has to walk is 1KM and we have never been robbed. (knock on wood).

A dog is a good thing. A beloved pet who will risk his life for you, even better.

livinglife December 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm

That internal warning needs to be listened to. Its difficult to teach my kid to listen to it because at 15 they know everything.
I’m always scanning the crowds to let them know I am aware where can I move to if I need cover or concealment. Driving is no different, always leave enough space so I could go around a stopped vehicle at a light.

Oddly enough, while wearing cowboy boots people will give me space. Even during the after Christmas sales, I’m guessing its unusual to hear in suburbia.

D. Smith December 27, 2013 at 2:04 pm

There have been a number of women robbed at gas stations…they get out to pump their gas and leave car unlocked/purse on seat and bam, two people rob her…one to quickly grab the bag and one to drive the car. Luckily that’s all they take. I always lock doors when I get out to pump my gas.

Already been several stolen cars this winter …folks go out and start the car to warm it up and come back to no car. Simply locking the doors when is running would be smart, folks. Apparently there is a new gagjet that will beep beep the passanger side door only. Another target is women putting the children in their car seats and their purse is still sitting in their shopping cart. Snatch, gone.

.

mom of three December 27, 2013 at 2:32 pm

GREAT ARTICLE, I am always telling my kids 13 &9 to be aware too. Not telling neighbors, what you have too, their friend’s have friend’s, ect. Getting an alarm system on your home, so far we have been blessed no problems yet. I agree do get to know your neighbors, in case you do need them.
We have lights, on the front and back of our house, plus a set on our little garage. We have a motion detector, on the side of our house, and my husband wired in four lights when we remodeling in the concrete footings for patio lights too. Most people think it’s a overkill, but to us you can’t be to safe.

murat yücel December 27, 2013 at 3:04 pm

And the most important: You get what you give. Nothing vanishes or comes existence without reason. Karma will get you.

ron December 27, 2013 at 3:20 pm

great advise. always be aware, always.

Happy Camper December 27, 2013 at 6:04 pm

#3. I read an interesting study once on the difference in humans and animals in the reactions to their instincts.
Animals will always act on their instinct, it’s a basic of their survival genetic makeup.
However humans will act on their emotions before we act on instinct. For example, not getting out of a lift when a creepy neighbour gets in the lift with you- fear of offending over rides the instinct to get out of the lift. Or being happy or in a good mood but ignoring your instinct not to overspend, drink too much, say too much etc.
Food for thought really.

Donna in MN December 28, 2013 at 11:09 am

German Shepherds are bred to be different. The ones I had knew when someone was fearful, aggressive, or passive. They learn by the scent the person gives off and the way the person acts through body language. They say it like it is. Sometimes it is better to lay everything out on the open than wonder if social ediquitte is best to be “nice” towards a person who wants to rob you.

My GSD German import (SV) Kewanee naturally went leaping and swimming towards children who screamed and went underwater for a long period of time to rescue them. I suppose this was instinct, but I helped her develop this trait for her to be a water rescue dog. She never rescued anyone for real because public beaches outlawed dogs, and because Kewanee wasn’t allowed at this one beach, a 9 year old girl drowned in Pine River, MN about 12 years ago. Kewanee thought she rescued 40+ people when on private beaches where she practiced her rescues with a lot of kids and adults. She put her heart into rescuing practice on strangers who were “pretend drowning”, but did protect me from a nasty sexual preditor and criminal neighbor who tried to break into my house and drove him away.

Ah Crap December 27, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I take exception to just one thing. Leaving things in plain sight in your car. I read where a woman would take her dog for a walk and leave a wrapped present on the front seat of her car, which had the windows down. Without fail, when she came back, the present was gone. This didn’t bother her one tiny bit. The present contained all the dog droppings from the week before.

Donna in MN December 28, 2013 at 1:45 pm

When my x and I packed up to leave a primitive camp site on a buckboard wagon, he left behind a box for the garbage man to pick up when the sites were cleaned later. A friend saw the box and came running with it behind the wagon yelling, “you guys left this box!” and my X said, “No, you can have it”. She said “thanks!” and the X was laughing out loud. I asked the X what was in the box, and he said “That was my poop box.”

OhioPrepper December 29, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Ah Crap,
What can I say but the same thing the thief must have said – Ah Crap.

John December 28, 2013 at 8:09 am

Listening your intuition/guts is probably most neglected but powerful tool for anything. When it comes to city life safety what really turn me on is: know your city well and never do this alone. Having friends and acquaintance is very important in every aspect of life.

axelsteve December 28, 2013 at 10:42 am

I can think of 1 thing that women can do to be safer. After getting in your car in a parking lot(wherever you may be) Get into car.Lock door. Insert key and start it up. Drive away. I see so many women linger in there car in a parking lot that it makes me wonder why more of them do not get carjacked, raped or robbed.

Aunt B December 28, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I’m one of those idiots that get into the car, lock the doors and then put everything away where it belongs. Duh! It can wait till I get home to be put away. Thanks for the reminders.

pj December 29, 2013 at 8:42 am

Gut instinct. Trust it. a guy is creeping you out and you seek refuge. If he is a bad man, he might get mad, but you are safe. If he is a good guy, he will not be upset, he will understand. He has a mom, sister, daughter, wife he loves and maybe learn to teach her how to protect herself, too. It’s a win, win situation. I have misjudged a few people and distrusted good folks, but they don’t hold it against me. So far, those I’ve trusted and shouldn’t, haven’t done me harm other than financial. Thank God.

1stworlder January 1, 2014 at 1:29 pm

You have that right, Nathan McCall who wrote a crybaby essay about women thinking he was a rapist when they got out of elevators, actually admitted in his earlier book “Makes Me Wanna Holler” to rape, burglary and even this nice excerpt, about a little white boy riding his bike.

“We all took off after him… Stomped him and kicked him… kicked him in the head and face and watched the blood gush from his mouth… kicked him in the stomach and nuts, where I knew it would hurt…. Every time I drove my foot into his balls, I felt better…. We bloodied him so badly…. We walked away, laughing, boasting…. F—ing up white boys like that made us feel good inside.”

Not the kind of guy a woman would want to be in an elevator with, but would call you names when you left.

MamaLiberty December 29, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Great article, and lots of good ideas. Read the story, then send for the free book. Good habits require serious practice, and this book contains drills developed to assist in forming them. Just understanding the need for situational awareness won’t make it happen.

The Man I Might Have Killed
http://www.thepriceofliberty.org/?page_id=846
By Susan Callaway
Certified NRA instructor for handguns, self defense, CRSO

The dedication page of my new book reads: To the man I had to shoot to save my life. Yes, you read it right. I’ve already had to shoot a man in self defense. Here’s the story.

In 1982 I was living alone at the edge of a small desert town in Southern California. It wasn’t the best of neighborhoods and I was moving the very next day to a better area. Sometimes your luck just runs out.

OhioPrepper December 29, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Your number 2 & 3 are the most important. Situational awareness means paying attention and you can’t do that while texting, or paying attention to your cell phone or mp3 player. Following your instincts is either a god given or evolutionary (depending on your own beliefs) talent we humans used on the savannas and in the forests to keep from getting eaten. We are perhaps more sophisticated and live in better surroundings; but, those predators are still out there, and are often more dangerous than the animals of yester year.
Humans are always in one of four states: Unaware, Aware, Alert, and Alarm. No one can completely avoid the unaware state, since most of us are in it when sleeping. In this state, some alarm should be used in our absence, be it electronic or canine. The problem is that too many people are often in that unaware (often clueless) state when they should not be. Attempting to go from the unaware state directly to the alarm state is something that we all need to avoid. Try picturing awakening in bed to someone standing over you with a gun. A very bad situation. Being aware of our situation allows a transition to the alert state, where we focus on the danger and do something about it. It gives us time, which in essence gives us options to avoid going into that alarm state, or helps us enter the alarm state with a clear head, perhaps allowing us to deploy defensive techniques and or weapons.
As we employ more and more electronic gadgets in our lives, we somehow think of ourselves as being more “sophisticated”. We “multitask” and too often don’t put the most important tasks, situational awareness and self preservation at the top of the list. It’s time to pay attention to what’s really important in the moment.

banaras December 29, 2013 at 6:08 pm

One of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me was if you are walking or driving and you see a bad situation or anything suspicious happening up ahead, road blocks, police cars, etc. immediately turn around and go back the way you came, find an alternate route at a safe distance around the problem. I know someone who avoided begin pulled into the Miami riots because she used this piece of advice her husband gave her. Don’t be curious or blithely continue into the problem area.

Donna g December 29, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I played a version of I spy with the kids when they were little. I spy the back door, I spy the best place for hide and seek, games of close your eyes and answer questions about who is where, how many folks two tables over, stuff like that. Don’t be embarrassed to bring up the creepy guy, ask them ‘why’ and explore the intinuition. Just as important, ask about the ‘normal guy ‘ ( after all, most bad guys don’t look like bad guys, do they?) When a little older, show them improvised uses for everyday items to defend with. Amazing how much can be down with a ruler, pen or pencil. It’s helps them to be aware and think outside the box.
Great article! And be aLert folks, America needs more Lerts!

1stworlder January 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm

What about listening to Attorney General Eric “fast&furious” Holder when he was fighting the Felon No Vote Law in Florida, and admitted that 1 out of 3 voting age black males are felons? That’s pretty good situational awareness.

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