Before I started my own business I was a cop in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Police officers are trained to deal with horrible accidents, victims of crime and malicious criminals. My training was extensive and challenging. I handled it well. But nothing could have prepared me—even my military service before becoming a police officer—to deal unemotionally with the October, 2017 shooting tragedy in Las Vegas. That event makes us all wonder how we and our loved ones can be safer in public places.
The great orator, writer, and abolitionist Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) was on target when he said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” He would be equally well spoken today to say, “Eternal vigilance is the price of personal safety.” The only real defense against bad guys is to stay alert and on the lookout at all times. Put safety first every time and be aware there are definite steps you can take to mitigate danger in public places. Here are safety tips I have gleaned from my police and military background.
DON’T BE A VICTIM
Victims don’t pay attention to their surroundings. They are daydreaming and ignore obvious danger signals. Put your head on a swivel, look around all the time. Criminals know there are only two kinds of people that look around all the time—and neither are good prey for them. The two types of people who look around all the time are usually cops or fellow criminals.
Don’t visit gas stations at night, since most stations usually have just one fairly inattentive clerk behind a host of window stickers and retail displays. Criminal predators know they need only worry about the video cameras designed to catch people stealing gas—not car-jackers, car thieves, robbers, etc. Before entering any retail establishment take a few seconds to look inside and observe what’s going on. Are clerks and customers present and is their behavior normal? If not, if your gut tells you something is not right, do not go in. Go to a different store that does look normal or defer your purchase. And call the police. As the public announcement you often hear booming loudly at airports says, “If you see something, say something!”
Get rid of stickers on your car signaling to criminal predators that you are easy prey. They are often cute little sayings that indicate “baby on board,” “family with children,” “woman driver,” etc. Criminal predators know if they confront the driver of such a car, he or she will likely give them anything and everything to save their kids.
Never leave the engine running with kids in the car as criminals may push you out of the way, disable you, and take your vehicle. They couldn’t care less about what happens to someone in the car, unless that person is old enough to identify them. If you are at a gas station turn the car off and take the keys with you, even if you are just outside the vehicle.
DON’T BE A CASUALTY
If there is a fire, smoke, or suspected fire in a building, get out in an orderly and rapid manner. Do not hesitate or collect belongings, other than your family and people in the building. Just get out as fast as you can. Remember, people who walk toward a suspected fire, investigate, hesitate, take a video, hang around to watch, are frequently killed or injured.
If there is a shooting, leave in an orderly, rapid manner. Watch where you are going. Do your best to make sure you are not moving closer to the shooter. Watch the doors as you go through them. Do they lock? You may have to go back. Lock them if you are sure the shooter(s) are on the other side.
Never panic, scream, or lose control. Law enforcement officers (LEOs) are trained using color codes to identify awareness levels. Condition white means the officer(s) are encountering or about to encounter a situation where people are oblivious to what is going on around them. LEOs can never, ever allow themselves to be in this condition and expect to remain police officers.
Condition yellow means caution. The officers are constantly aware of their surroundings, their heads are on a swivel and they are constantly looking around, behind, and in front of them. LEOs are trained in be in condition yellow virtually all the time.
Condition red is next. LEOs take decisive action to use only the amount of force needed to stop the perpetrators and to alert back up.
Condition black, indicates a panicked, out of control, demeanor and situation. LEOs are trained never to be in this condition. You should avoid condition white by staying in the present, looking around, being aware of your surroundings, and never allow yourself to fall into condition black. That could cost you your life or the lives of the ones you love.
If you hear an explosion or shot-like noise, don’t assume it’s fireworks. Stay away from windows. A common terrorist technique is called the “gotcha.” The “gotcha” is setting a small explosion to entice people to look out windows, or gather to look for the source of the explosion. The second, timed blast is usually far larger and is designed to blow out window glass and maim spectators. If you see a powerful white flash, get on the floor or behind cover. Light travels much faster than the explosive shock wave that follows. Never stare at a fireball or blast as doing that is likely to damage your eyes.
Use cover and concealment if you can’t escape. Remember, concealment may not be cover. A bush, car, even a tree might conceal you, but offer no cover, as most bullets—especially from a rifle—will easily penetrate them. Cover is usually preferable to concealment because it will stop bullets being sprayed about.
FLIGHT OR FIGHT?
Use verbal techniques to de-escalate confrontation because any physical fight can turn deadly. If there is no choice and you can’t leave, then the fight is on. Fight with everything and anything you can. Remember—this is not a fair fight. Anything goes to survive and to protect your loved ones.
Avoid mobs even if you agree with whatever they are protesting. Mobs can turn violent in seconds and in mobs people often do not feel responsible for their actions. If you see a mob—leave. Do not hang around.
If you are being kidnapped, never go to “crime scene two.” Don’t get in your abductor’s car. You are better off being injured in a busy shopping center than shot in a field somewhere.
I know these are not the most pleasant thoughts to consider. However, your personal safety and the lives of your loved ones often hinges on quick thinking and acute awareness. In any emergency, remember the acronym “STOP” that police officers learn on day one: Stop, Think, Observe, Plan.