Holiday Shopping and Your Personal Safety
The days are getting shorter and with the holiday shopping season upon us, we will head to the mall to purchase gifts for our friends and loved ones. Others make their way there too, but with a far different agenda. Even in good economic times, it is well known that criminals see high concentrations of distracted shoppers in mall settings as easy targets.
Most of us multitask: walk to and from our vehicles “heads down”, often chatting on the cell phone, listening to the iPod or merely daydreaming, an oblivious state of mind often referred to as “Condition White”. For criminals, victimizing shoppers in “Condition White” is like “shooting fish in a barrel”.
Who are these criminals and how do they operate?
- The opportunistic criminal loiters in and around mall parking lots, entrances and even bathroom areas looking to grab a package or purse from an unsuspecting, inattentive person.
- Others lay in wait and strike when a “soft target” presents itself. They may hide between vehicles, behind shrubbery or any other structures offering convenient cover from which they can launch an ambush attack leveraging the element of speed and surprise. The back seat of an unlocked vehicle provides an ideal hiding place as well!
- Others actively seek out their prey. They may watch from a standoff position such as the food court or coffee stand or do surveillance from an upper balcony in a multi story mall or department store. They will “shadow” the prospective victim to an isolated area, often the parking lot, underground garage or perhaps an elevator or stairwell and then strike.
How do we present ourselves as “harder targets” to these criminals as they go through their victim selection process? Harder targets tend to operate in what has been described as “Condition Yellow”, a frame of mind in which you are relaxed yet aware of your surroundings and employ sound strategy. Maintaining this mindset is not complicated but it does take practice and discipline. If you work at it enough, it becomes instinctive and takes less conscious effort to maintain.
People in “Condition Yellow”:
- Walk with their heads up, shoulders back and scan their surroundings making them more difficult to surprise. This body language is interpreted to be representative of good self esteem and the conviction to stand their ground and resist if attacked or accosted.
- Walk with brisk athletic stride and purpose of movement. These people are perceived to be more difficult to control physically and are often passed over in favor of those with shuffling, unorganized gait and weak or submissive-looking posture. Walking heads down with rounded slumped shoulders is a prime example.
- Dress down, blend in and wear comfortable footwear that allows them to move quickly.
- Always know what is going on in the blind spot behind them. This area is also known as your “six o’ clock” and is from where most ambush attacks are launched.
- Remember to look up, knowing that criminals do surveillance while “perched” on the high ground such as the aforementioned mall balcony. The “perch” is preferred because very few people ever look up.
- Are good at reading body language and do not deem their instincts as silly or irrational if they get a “bad vibe” from somebody. They honor their intuition and will remain in a well lit, busy area until they are certain that the threat no longer exists or help arrives.
- Carry very little in their hands, allowing them to rapidly bring their arms and hands to bear to fend off an attack.
- Have the discipline to move their vehicles to well-lit parking spaces if they will be at the mall after dark.
- Although not always convenient, make a point of shopping with a friend or family member and, if not able to use the buddy system, are not shy to ask a security guard to walk them to their car.
- Do not draw cash from mall ATMs knowing this attracts unwanted attention.
- Look inside and underneath their vehicles before unlocking and loading packages. (A small flashlight always comes in handy.)
- Do not turn their back on the world as they load their vehicle.
- Lock their vehicles even for the brief time it will take to return the shopping cart.
- Have their car keys in hand, get in, lock and drive away immediately. They do not clear voice mails or read text messages while parked, knowing that they are most vulnerable when in or around a stationary vehicle.
- Remember that what might appear to be a young couple in a parking garage or public area could be a male/ female criminal team at work.
- Do not lapse into a false sense of security and drop their guard just because they are in a well–lit, high traffic area. (Anything can happen, anywhere at any time.)
- Are weary of panel vans or utility vehicles parked on the driver’s side or near their vehicles. It is easy to be pulled through the sliding door of a van.
- Make sure they have not been followed from the mall by paying attention to the vehicles are around or behind them.
As you go about your day, observe others and ask yourself “who would be an easy target to victimize if I were the bad guy”? Make mental notes of all the elements that make the target an easy mark and be sure you are not conducting yourself in the same manner. This is not an exercise in fear or anxiety. It’s about empowerment. Dial up your “Condition Yellow”, relax and enjoy your holiday shopping.
Larry will also be speaking at ESC's Annual General Membership meeting on January 26, 2010. I highly recommend all ESC member organizations mark their calendars and plan to attend - Larry's presentations are not to be missed.