By William A. Edwards
News broadcasts are overflowing with stories of missing kids, murders and violence against individuals and families. Despite spending billions on more police, jails and attempting to place repeat offenders behind bars for good, no one seems to be safe. Why? Because the many of perpetrators of these crimes are either driven by prurient lusts or a need to pay for drugs. They have no fear of the police or penalties assigned by courts. Given those facts, the best way to keep yourself and your family safe is by taking personal responsibility for your own safety.
Safety is not always about carrying around a concealed weapon, stun gun or pepper spray. It’s also about denying criminals an opportunity to attack us in or outside our homes. Many crimes occur because criminals detect an opportunity to commit them. We invite offenders to attack us or invade our homes by failing to take preemptive measures for our own safety. Most of these measures are common sense solutions that require little time, effort and a modest amount of money to implement. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Secure your home and neighborhood.
Many home and apartment invasions occur during broad daylight hours because criminals know that is when they are more likely to find an easy way into someone’s dwelling. People are lured into a false sense of security because it is daytime. They leave doors open for convenience or because they are expecting someone, and that provides the criminal with a chance to act.
Make sure that doors and windows are locked at all times. If you have a house with a fenced in backyard, be sure you lock any gates that provide access to the yard with pad locks. The rooms where children under eighteen years of age sleep should have bars on the windows. These can be any color, are expandable and easy to install with a hand or power drill. They are available at most home improvement stores for a reasonable cost.
A steel mesh gate with a dead bolt lock as a second front door (and another for the back) provide excellent protection and allow you to get a good look at who is there. These will cost a few dollars, but tend to make criminals think twice and will likely make them move on to an easier break-in. An alarm system is very helpful if you can afford one. If you have land line phone service, make sure every room in your home has an extension and an operating phone in it. Otherwise, carry a cell phone with you at all times.
Most doors and locks are easy to overcome for career criminals. The idea is to have the kind of doors, locks and other security measures that will make their job so hard that they will decide to move on to easier targets. A visit to your local hardware store will probably net you a wealth of information and the provide you with the materials you will need for an upgrade. Door plates, double locks and dead bolts are a good start. Peep holes and sliding bolts to secure doors are a wise addition to your home security.
People that live in houses will often go to great lengths to secure their homes and install expensive alarm systems only to have all that undone by a need to leave their garage doors open. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen garage doors open while neighbors are not even home. In a day when most homes have automatic garage door openers, this seems silly. Either way, keep your garage door closed whenever possible. If you do not, you’re simply putting out the welcome mat to every criminal that passes by. When you do back out of your garage, always do so slowly and watch for kids, pets or others that might wander by just at that moment. A little forethought can prevent a big tragedy.
Draw up a disaster or home invasion plan so that you and other family members already know what to do if someone tries to get in or succeeds. Have a safe room with a solid door that can be secured with double locks and bolts. Make sure it is centrally located with easy access to all who live in the home. Place a cell phone in your safe room, keep it there at all times and leave it plugged in to a charger. Decide (in advance) what needs to be done and make sure all family members are on board with the plan. Choose the best exit points in case of fire or other disaster situations. Have a local meet up place nearby (within a mile of your home) for family members just in case it’s ever needed.
Discuss safety with your neighbors and ask local law enforcement and fire officials if they offer any programs to help you to better secure your home and neighborhood. Most do and are happy to come and perform free home inspections, neighborhood security checks, smoke alarm checks and battery replacements, and some even provide neighborhood safety seminars. Safety is knowledge and the more you know about protecting yourself, the safer you will be. Being safe also helps law enforcement officers, fire fighters and other first responders that take a risk every time they answer a call.
2. Be aware of Stranger Danger and AT RISK Hours
Criminals are most likely to attack you, or members of your family, when you or they are alone. Predators that seek to rob, rape, beat, murder or kidnap people know when they have the best chance of finding their victims by themselves. This provides them with the greatest possible shot at committing their crime without getting caught.
Everyone is more at risk when they are alone. Walking or jogging without at least a few companions in an isolated area or park path is a bad idea. Walking to school or work alone, especially through less traveled, rural or forested areas is also unwise. If you live alone, you must take extra care to look around before you exit your dwelling. Always have your car and house keys ready. It would also be wise to have a small, battery-operated sound device like a siren attached to your key ring as well.
Offenders look for opportunities to attack people and those who are home alone in the early morning hours or during the day represent good opportunities for these predators. This is why home security is so important. Strong doors, locks and bolts are your first defense if you’re home alone sleeping, showering or doing the wash in a part of the house where you might not hear someone trying to break in. If you’re alone, you’re vulnerable and need to take extra care when it comes to personal security.
Sexual predators will always try to to strike at individuals when most other people in the household are not home. They prefer daytime hours for break-ins, rapes and physical attacks. Child predators prefer to grab kids on their way to or from school. If they cannot do that, they will try to kidnap children off the street or out in front of their home during late afternoon and evening hours. People are preoccupied during those hours coming and going from work; preparing or eating dinner and, once inside, tend to avoid looking out their windows or doors to see what is happening outside. Children and teens are very vulnerable during these hours and really need to be watched and supervised.
If all else fails, hard core child predators will definitely try to enter a child or teens bedroom during late night or early morning hours. That’s when static security devices such as window bars and strong doors and locks can help prevent tragedy. Child predators will always go after the easy target. You may want to install a panic button near a child or teen’s bed for added security. The button would be attached to any device that makes a very loud noise for an extended period of time. An air horn can also be a wise choice and a less expensive one.
People in small towns or isolated neighborhoods are more at risk than anyone else. If you are in that situation, make sure your home is as secure as you can make it and that you have a cell phone in hand (already dialed) when you walk to and from vehicles or around the outside of your home when no one else is around. Children should be escorted everywhere and never left to wait by themselves at bus stops. If you notice anyone that you do not recognize driving around your neighborhood checking out children or houses, report them to your local police immediately.
No matter where you live, be sure that you and other family members always call home to check in on a regular basis. Make sure you know where everyone is at all times. Knowing the last location of a potential kidnap or crime victim before they disappear may help save their lives. Some companies now offer hand held GPS tracking devices for personal use. These are especially helpful in protecting children and the elderly. It’s also wise to take advantage of this technology when it comes to GPS security devices for vehicles.
3. Travel safely and use good sense
Most people feel safe in their vehicles, especially if it is a newer model in good working order. However, Murphy’s Law can kick in at any time: If something can go wrong, it will! That’s why you should have some sort of a towing plan for your vehicle. If so, make sure you always have a cell phone in your vehicle, a car charger for it and easy access to the number to call for the towing service of your plan.
If you do break down in an isolated area or late at night, always call 911 first and explain your situation. Most law enforcement agencies will dispatch an officer (if possible) to wait with you for highway and personal safety sake until your towing service arrives. Otherwise, never open a vehicle door or even a window for anyone you do not know. Make sure anyone claiming to be law enforcement is uniformed. There is no way for you to know who is there to help you or hurt you. Why take that kind of a chance?
People believe that once they drive into an above-ground parking garage, check into a hotel or enter an office building they are safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are just the kind of places that criminals are constantly looking at for crimes of opportunity. They want to isolate their victims and these kinds of places provide plenty of chances for them to do exactly that.
If you must use a parking garage during off peak hours, try to avoid below ground garages. Always park near stairs or an elevator. Ask security personnel for an escort whenever possible and available, especially if you are alone or with young children. If not, get the phone number of the attendant on duty, call them and stay on the phone with them until you are safely with other people. If no attendant is available, have someone meet you in the garage and decide where to meet in advance.
Hotels are popular sites for many crimes and most of these go under-reported by the press in order to help preserve the illusion of an area that is safe for tourism and travelers. Knowing that, you should never leave a minor in your car while checking in. Never leave your vehicle unlocked or running when you are not in the driver’s seat, not for a moment. When bringing luggage into a hotel or motel, carry a few items at a time and lock car and hotel doors immediately behind you. More people have been robbed or injured because of a crime at drive up motels, just a few feet from their rooms, than at any other type of hotel or motel. This is especially true in popular tourist areas.
If you are staying in a large hotel with many floors, rooms and hallways, stop by the front desk before you head to your room or another part of the hotel (restaurant, bar, exercise room, etc), especially if you’re staying there alone. Tell the front desk personnel who you are and where you are headed. Ask them if you can call them when you arrive there and when you leave again. Tell them to call you if they do not receive your call and to send out the cavalry if you do not answer. Are these measures excessive? Not if they save your life.
Airports and commercial airlines are a whole different topic. I would just suggest that unless you are a regular business traveler or frequent flyer, you should take a transport service or taxi to the airport and travel as lightly as you can. Mark all your baggage with your last name and destination on the outside. Include your name, phone number and destination on the inside. Avoid a complete address and never leave identification documents, cell phones, i-pads, bank cards, computers, storage media or cash inside luggage that will not be in your personal possession.
Thanks to homeland security issues, most airports in the USA are relatively safe places to be if you are inside a terminal or other airport building. However, criminals still find lots of opportunities to commit crimes by stealing the items that people place in their luggage, including their identities. They may also be looking for dwellings to rob while people are on vacation. Again, do NOT leave anything with addresses, social security numbers or other personal information in bags that you will not constantly have in your possession.
4. Be prepared to act in your own best interests
Use common sense in difficult situations. Authority figures are not perfect and are not always right. Their advice can get you injured or killed. There are several terrorist attacks and school shootings that attest to the truth of that statement. If you find yourself in the midst of a school or job shooting situation, robbery or other unusual event and see an opportunity to get out, do so. Avoid traditional exit opportunities (normal entrances and exits).
Use a window, back or employee door or emergency exit. Never enter a hallway or public area where a shooter could be lurking. If you must stay in a room, be sure it can be secured with more than just a lock. Pile heavy items up against a door and allow no one access unless you are certain they are law enforcement.
Vigilance is the best weapon to use against criminals. It takes some time, work and effort, but I believe that most people would agree that their life and the lives of their family members are worth it. Remember, criminals are looking for opportunities. If you provide them with one, they will take it and run with it.