Most of us have been the victim of either a burglary or theft and have felt the emotional and financial effects of such property crime. Violent crimes such as murder, rape, assault and robbery have a much greater impact on our lifestyle. Our inherent fear of a violent confrontation causes most of us to make everyday decisions based on our personal safety. "Is this a safe Neighborhood?" or "Is it safe to take a walk at night" are frequent questions that reflect a concern that controls our behavior. How can we minimize our fear of violent crime? What steps can be taken to actually reduce our vulnerability to crime such as street robbery? The following will shed some light on these questions.
Plan so that you are most visible to other people. This means that if you must walk alone, choose open, well lighted and well traveled areas. Crooks don't like to strike where eyewitnesses can provide the police with a detailed account. Leave your purse at home if possible. If you must carry one, hold it firmly, close to your body. Purse snatchers prefer to grab from behind. If you walk or jog, especially at night, consider getting a dog that can accompany you on a leash. Criminal offenders relate that a dog is one of the most effective crime deterrents.
If you work late hours, arrange to leave at the same time as a co-worker. Try to avoid parking far away from your worksite. Be aware of your surroundings at all times by making eye contact with passersby and glancing occasionally behind you. This type of "body language" will make you less attractive to a prospective mugger. If you sense that you are being followed, change direction or cross the street. If the person persists, run to the nearest place where you'll find people.
DON'T allow a stranger to follow you to your doorstep. Go to a public place where you can call the police whenever you feel threatened. When fleeing from danger alert others as well as the person posing a threat. Yell "Fire...Fire...Fire!" or activate an alarm device such as an aerosol shriek alarm. This device is a hand held noisemaker that, when carried, may dissuade a crook from choosing you in the first place.
Avoid fumbling for your keys; have them in your hand as you approach your car. Always check the back seat for uninvited guests before getting inside. Keep enough gas in the tank so you won't get stranded. Keep all doors locked and windows rolled up most of the way. Stay on well-traveled, well-lighted roads. If you are being followed by another car, drive into an open gas station, stay in your car, and ask the attendant to call the police. Better yet, drive straight to the nearest police station for assistance. Park only in well-lighted areas at night. Check for strangers who might be "casing" the area before you exit your car. Honk your horn and drive away if such a person advances toward you.
If you are "rear-ended" by another vehicle, motion for the driver to follow you to a public place. "Bump and rob" artists stage such accidents to lure unsuspecting drivers out of their cars to rob them of their wallet or purse. If a driver won't follow you, obtain as thorough a description as you can and report the incident to the police.
If your car breaks down, seek a phone or call box only if safe to do so. Place a "Call Police" banner in your rear window and raise the hood. If a "good Samaritan" approaches, crack a window and ask them to call the police or your tow company.
Check for signs of forced entry such as broken glass, a torn screen or pry marks before venturing inside. Make it a habit to leave a few dollars out in the open near your entry way. Back out quietly if you see the money is gone. NEVER feel reluctant to call the police if you sense a possibility of an intruder inside. Screen all strangers knocking at your door. Interview them through a one-way peephole while your door is locked. Anyone who refuses to present his or her employee I.D. upon request should be reported to the police.
Properly secure all openings at nighttime. "Cat burglars" are deterred when the only means of gaining entry would require breaking glass or smashing a door. Don't assume that upper floor windows are too high for a burglar's reach.
If You are a Victim... Some confrontations are unavoidable. When you consider that 4 out of 10 violent crime victimizations by strangers involve an armed offender, it's vital that you be prepared to minimize your risk of injury. Be willing to give up your valuables. A purse, wallet or jewelry is not worth fighting for when facing someone wielding a weapon. Carry only as much cash as you need. If confronted, try to stay calm. An assailant will be less likely to attack you if you appear controlled and self-confident. Try to mentally note your assailant's appearance without staring.
Use physical self- defense techniques only as a last resort to protect yourself when attacked. Go to the phone and dial 9-1-1 as soon as possible. Let the police operator take charge and instruct you. Remember, your quick actions in notifying the police will increase their chance of apprehending the suspect and preventing future victims.
Being the victim of a violent crime can have lasting emotional effects. If you are a victim, don't suppress your feelings of anger or frustration. If you are the friend or relative of a victim, lend your emotional support by being available to listen.