This is a guest post by WL.
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.
Start now to make sure you are staying prepared.