Friday, April 29, 2011

The Most Dangerous Time in a Crime

               Violent crime of any kind is a dangerous situation and can turn worse at any moment.  There is no way of knowing what is in the mind of the suspect.  What is the real motive?  During a robbery for example, is the goal to get your money or is it to hurt you?
               In studies of robbery suspects, the goal was usually to get the goods, but most of the suspects were willing to use violence if necessary.  Some crooks may think that they need to kill the victim if they will identify them later.  (For more on surviving a robbery, click here.)
               There are so many types of crimes and criminals it is impossible for a victim to really know what is going on.  Some crooks may not even tell you what they are up to, creating doubt and uncertainty, a useful tool to keep a victim off balance.
               A serial killer or rapist may kidnap a victim and try to keep them cooperative or somewhat calm by assuring them that they will be let go later.  During a robbery, the suspect may say that no one will get hurt if the victim just cooperates without a problem.
               So how do you know when you are truly in danger?  How do you know when the time has come that you must fight back no matter what?
               If an armed suspect is demanding property, then perhaps the safest thing is to give them what they ask quickly to end the situation.  Property can always be replaced.  If you are in danger, though, the time has come to act and respond and to escape.
               A recent crime story in Denver highlights some of these dangers.  A female security officer was coming into work at Cherry Creek Mall, an area usually considered high-end and safe.  A man approached the woman in the parking garage and he forced her at gunpoint to climb into the trunk of her own car after robbing her.  She was able to release the trunk from inside and escaped a few blocks away.  Moreover, she is most certainly alive today because she did escape.  The suspect was later arrested for murdering a 73-year old male just before the kidnapping.  He had a lengthy criminal history with arrests for drug violations, robbery and vehicle theft. 
               He was clearly capable of murder and most likely going to kill the woman once somewhere more private.  He had previously killed one person and he had already robbed her and stolen her car. 
               In the same area a couple of years before, a woman jogging along a bike path was kidnapped as well.  In that case, the suspect brought her back to his mobile home and raped her, keeping her prisoner for several days.  He actually discussed his dilemma with her saying that he was going to have to kill her.  She was able to convince him that he could let her go and she would not report him.  He did let her go after a horrible and terrifying time.  Her presence of mind and being able to keep her cool and persuade him to let her go saved her life.  She was also able to identify where he lived later for the police resulting in his arrest.
               So this brings us back to the point at hand – what is the most dangerous moment during a violent crime?  The moment the suspect tries to move you from the initial crime scene, you should consider yourself in a very dangerous situation.  If the primary motive were just to steal from you or to threaten you then there would be no need to take you somewhere else.  The majority of victims moved from one location to another end up being killed. 
               Are there exceptions?  Naturally.  Kidnappings in some countries are fairly common.  The goal in those types of crimes is to recoup some kind of ransom and most kidnappers know that the victim must be living to get the ransom.  The suspects will need proof of life.  You should know ahead of time the risks when traveling to some of these countries and generally multiple suspects will carry out the kidnapping.
               For this discussion, the type of crime we are talking about is street crime, usually one suspect acting alone.  Faced with an armed suspect, what do you do?  Every situation will be different.  The most important is to keep thinking clearly and not give in to panic.  If you decide that you need to fight back, then wait for, or create, an opportunity to attack and once you start, be aggressive and violent and don’t stop until the suspect is down or you have reached safety.  An example of creating an opportunity during a robbery may be acting afraid and let your wallet or purse fall when handing it to the suspect.  Invariably, their eyes will follow the falling purse, giving you a split second to attack and take advantage of their reaction time.
               However, physical attacks may not always be the best option.  If there is the chance that other people are around and the suspect needs to get away quickly, you may be able to delay them to the point they leave without you.  Acting as if you are going to vomit or pretending to have heart problems may prompt them to give up.  You may be able to pretend that you have a bad knee or sprained ankle and cannot walk.  One word of caution – be careful about pretending to faint.  That could be easy to spot as a fake with some simple threats or painful strikes.
                 As with most reactions, you will be more successful if you have planned in advance how you will respond in a situation like some of these.  Be ready to fight back in any way you can, kicking, biting, gouging and screaming or plan another tactic, such as illness to keep yourself from being taken during a violent crime.  Or maybe simply knowing how to open your own trunk from inside it. 
               For more on self-defense and personal safety, read the post on “Fight, Flight or Freeze – You Decide!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fight, Flight or Freeze – You Decide!

               How would you respond in a life-threatening situation?  Would you have a plan, have to create one on the fly, or just freeze?  Wait a minute – what happened to fight or flight?  Aren’t those the two reactions we are supposed to have in a terrifying moment?  All too often, paralyzing fear takes over and causes us to do just that – paralyzing us in our tracks.
               In the article, “5 Tips to Becoming Street Smart,” one of the tips was to react to a threat and respond to a critical situation.  Certainly, knowing how to react is one of the elements of being street smart.  Unfortunately, that is not always the way that we do react.
               We hear of the fight or flight response so often that we assume it is natural.  Wouldn’t we just automatically know whether to flee or to fight off an attack?  When you think about it, we do talk about things like a deer “frozen in the headlights.”  So, nature does set an example of animals becoming paralyzed by the unknown.
               Unfortunately, there are many cases where victims froze when confronted with a deadly attacker.  In some cases, the victims outnumbered the attacker and still froze, unable to take action.  There are many reasons why.  One is that we are taught from a young age not to fight back, whether in school, on the playground or even as adults.  Police departments commonly warn against fighting off a mugger or other criminals, especially if a property crime such as purse snatching is involved. 
Another reason is that when we deal with a situation that is completely unknown, our mind is distracted.  It is something like the confusion of traveling to a foreign country.  You could walk into a grocery store on your street and immediately know where to go, how to find the items you are looking for and all the while talking on a cell phone or texting someone.  In another setting, where the environment is different and the language is one you do not know, then you will find that the same grocery list becomes much harder.
               The first step is to eliminate the tendency to freeze when thrown into an unknown situation.  The way to do that starts long before facing a dangerous predator, two or four-legged.  To avoid that mental freeze you have to make a decision ahead of time about how you will respond and what you are willing to do.  In terms of self-defense and life-threatening crime, how far are you willing to go to protect yourself?  Would you physically fight an attacker?  That is a decision that you should make long before ever finding yourself in a dangerous situation.
               The second phase, once you’ve decided on your response, is to begin the mental preparation.  To keep your mind from freezing, you need to exercise it and think through what if scenarios.  This is exactly the type of training that law enforcement recruits go through in the police academy.  Scenarios and realistic situations to build up the type of response that they will need to survive on the street and deal effectively and safely with difficult circumstances.

               Done right, this can also help increase your awareness of what is going on around you.  If you are paying attention to your surroundings, you can use everyday interactions to create ‘what if’ scenarios.  As you are walking down the sidewalk and you see someone walking towards you, think about what you would do if they suddenly demanded your wallet or cell phone.  What if a car pulled up next to you and asked you directions in a soft voice?  How close would you get and how would you react if the driver or a passenger tried to pull you into the car? 
               Periodically running through different possibilities can help you respond if you ever need to.  It doesn’t have to make your paranoid either.  In law enforcement, officers learn about different levels of mental awareness to their surroundings.  Ideally, when out and about, you should be aware of what is going on around you.  Sitting on the couch in your house, would be a time when you can let your guard down.  Your what if exercises should develop that awareness, but not to the point of becoming paranoid.  You should walk through a parking lot at night and ponder what you should do if someone in a parked car would attack you without becoming fearful or anxious.
               The third step is to build your muscle memory.  If you’ve gone through the mental exercise of deciding how to respond and training yourself to be aware, then the next and final step would be the actual fight.  Hopefully, you will never be in a life-threatening attack, but if you are, you will be ready to fight back.  This is the true fight or flight moment.  Fleeing may be difficult.  An attacker may be much faster than you, so fleeing may actually give them more of an advantage.  Only run if you have an escape nearby or within reach.  Or if you lucky enough to be a track star. 
               Fighting to protect yourself may be the best course of action.  You do not have to be Bruce Lee to fight back, but part of your preparedness should be to practice a few basic self-defense moves before that moment comes.  There is a lot that goes into self-defense training, much more than we will cover here.  There will be more on self-defense moves to come, but nothing replaces the actual physical practice of realistic self-defense moves and responses. 
               Remember the three basic steps to build the right reply to the fight, flight or freeze options.
1.      Decide now – Make your mind up ahead of time on how you will respond.
2.     Constant planning – Use ‘what if’ scenarios to prepare yourself for different threats.
3.     Build muscle memory – Join or practice self-defense tactics to keep yourself physically prepared.          
Following this basic process will help you deal with the unexpected and to escape danger.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

5 Tips to Becoming Street Smart (and Maybe Even Cool)

               “Street smart.”  What images comes to mind?  What kind of character or person do you imagine?  Would you consider yourself street smart?  What does it take? 
                Each of us will have a different idea about what it means to be street smart.  Probably most of us will picture character from a movie or other fictional character.  When it comes down to it, most of us probably don’t really know someone that we would normally think of us street smart or savvy.  It is a ‘cool’ idea and something that we tend to idolize in fictional action heroes.
               For some people, being street smart may mean knowing street lingo or slang.  That may work in some drug-induced circles or for undercover police officers, but is that all?  For others, street smarts may conjure up images of Oliver Twist, living on the streets, picking pockets and stealing food to survive.  Someone who knows all the ins and outs of how to survive on your own.
               Many may equate street smarts to the school of hard knocks, literally surviving in a rough and tumble world.  A tough guy always defending himself from thugs or gangs and fighting to stay ahead.  Some may even imagine gang members as street smart.
               Each of these meanings do have some similarities.  All involve an understanding about illicit, illegal or unsavory lifestyles and the things people do to support that life, generally not something the average guy or gal are normally exposed to.  At dictionary.com, street savvy is defined as “shrewd awareness of how to survive or succeed in any situation, especially as a result of living or working in a difficult environment […]”. 
               For our purposes, let’s define street savvy as simply being aware of the potential evil, or threats, around us, identifying the warning signs and most important reacting or responding to the menace.  This idea applies not just to physical threats, but also to frauds.  After all, being aware of a con man’s game is the first step to avoid it.
               Even the most innocent or geekiest of action heroes are successful because they do understand what evil lurks about and how criminals think and act.  Geeky and na├»ve Peter Parker becomes the street savvy Spiderman with a quick custome change.
               There are five rules to follow if you want to be street smart:
1.      Live as if you are hunted.  If you walked about consciously thinking a saber-tooth is about to pounce on you, you would be much more aware of your surroundings.  In our modern world, becoming dinner for a wild animal is not our biggest concern.  However, having a heightened sense of alertness is always a plus with self-defense and personal safety.  Walking about, being wary of hiding spots or potential ‘ambush’ spots for a mugger or street thug will go a long way for staying out of harm’s way. 

2.     Be suspicious.  Note that I didn’t say paranoid, just suspicious; cautious.  Be wary and evaluate the situation.  Look for warning signs that something is not right.  Being street savvy may mean looking out for #1, at least to an extent.  On the “street” there will be plenty of people looking out for themselves at your expense.  This may mean that you have to delay or stall or ask questions even when someone is asking for assistance – it could be a way to distract you or draw you into a trap.  This applies to frauds or physical threats.  Even serial killer Ted Bundy would approach his victims asking for help, often pretending to have an injury to build sympathy.

3.     If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, it is.  Don’t make excuses to justify a situation that is screaming warnings at you – remember rule #1 – you are being hunted – now survive.  When your questions add up to more questions and your suspicions build, don’t ignore those warnings.


4.     Trust your instincts.  If you get a bad feeling about a situation, individual or scenario then trust your gut.  You may have picked up a warning sign on a subconscious level.  Often our minds are working on a level that we do not always understand.  As a police officer, I learned this lesson (sometimes the hard way).  You learn to trust your instinct and realize that you may realize someone’s intentions based on little signs, such micro expressions, posturing, and body language.  An obvious example is someone clenching their fists and pacing is a sure sign that they are escalating towards a violent reaction.

5.     React.  Do not let fear paralyze you.  We’ve head of fight of flight, but it should be fight, flight or freeze and too often people freeze when facing an unfamiliar situation, especially one fraught with fear or danger.  This starts long before any threats are detected and is an ongoing mental exercise.  In your mind, you should constantly play “what if” scenarios.  Imagine your response if that person walking past in the grocery store grabs yours (or your wife’s) purse from the cart.  What will you do?  What if you are followed to your car in a parking lot; how will you react?  Thinking through different situations and deciding how you will react ahead of time is critical to avoid freezing in an unfamiliar or terrifying situation.
You’ve had your crash course in street smarts.  Now get out there and start living those rules.  And keep reading for ways on how to make these a regular part of your lives.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, Supply Risks and National Security

               I know what you are thinking.  What could a nursery rhyme possibly have to do with national security?  Well, a lot actually.  You may recall what happened with Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.  She went to her cupboard, discovered it was bare, and couldn’t give her dog a bone.  There is no mention of what the rest of her family did, but the dog certainly had to go without. 
Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of potential risks recently, especially in regards to supply chain risk.  Supply chain risks are something that businesses have to deal with on every level.  School districts already looking at making budget cuts, still have to buy fuel for school buses.  Businesses need to buy supplies or goods to manufacture their products or to use in their businesses.  Even service companies have to deal with supply issues.  Imagine if you have uniformed staff and the overseas company that normally supplies a part of your uniform is no longer available.
Generally, these kinds of supply chain failings happen on a micro level and go unnoticed by most of us.  However, recently there have been a number of high-profile cases that stress the importance of supply chain risk management, not just on a small level that affects individual organizations, but also on a national level.  Some examples even affect our national security posture around the world.
First, there was the earthquake in Japan.  The financial aftershocks still rock businesses internationally.  Among all the horror stories and the loss of life, the impact on Japan’s economy has been becoming clear.  One example of the impact has been on the auto industry.  The line between American-made cars and Japanese cars has become more and more blurred in a global market and even American car companies realized that many of their parts were made in Japan and the supply was interrupted as a result of the quake.
As this was going on in Asia, the Ivory Coast has been embroiled in revolution and violence.  About 34% of the world’s cocoa beans for chocolate come from the Ivory Coast.  The exportation of cocoa has been on hold for months affecting the prices.  Some analysts think that the situation is nearing the end and cocoa prices have started to drop (of course, how much of the savings gets passed back to the consumer versus lining corporate pockets remains to be seen).  Who would have thought that political unrest in the Ivory Coast would influence the price of chocolate?
Last, there is the Middle East.  The civil unrest has been spreading from one country to another, Egypt to Libya, Syria, Yemen and even Jordan.  The clear risk lies in the supply of oil, a commodity that industrial countries cannot do without.  Even the risk of closing the Suez Canal sent fuel prices skyrocketing.
So what are the real life lessons?  Certainly, you cannot predict every potential problem.  However, this is where a risk assessment can help identify the risks associated with certain supply chains.  And more importantly, once you’ve looked at your risks, take the necessary corrective action.  As with many security issues, one of the biggest, often fatal, mistakes is to ignore the warnings and go own our merry way.  That is the equivalent as walking down a street and seeing a gang of thugs blocking the sidewalk and you decide to push right through.  Pride aside, the safer course would be to cross the street and avoid the problem – but who does that?
Once you have identified your risks, create a back-up plan – a business continuity plan.  What will you do if a key ingredient is missing?  It could be a simple solution or complex, depending on your organization.  If you run a coffee shop, what is the risk if the newspapers aren’t delivered before your morning customers arrive?  Minimal, maybe, but you still risk having a first-time customer not coming back.  What if you manufacture some type of good or product?  Do you have a back up in case a critical product piece is not available?  A snowstorm or natural disaster or dockworker strike could interrupt your flow from thousands of miles away.  Identify a replacement part from another supplier, preferably one that even comes from a different part of the world.
The simple, step-by-step process is:
1.      Review the goods that go into your business.  Do not overlook the small things.  Imagine shopping for Christmas, buying all the presents to give out, selecting the wrapping paper, go home to wrap on Christmas Eve, only to discover that you have no tape.
2.     Find out where your supplies come from.  How stable or secure are those vendors and also the regions or countries where they are located.  In turn, each of those vendors has suppliers of their own, so the ripples could run several layers deep.
3.     Develop a back-up plan.  Either have a plan to use alternate materials or build a store on hand for interruptions.
4.     Follow the plan.  All the best intentions in the world will do you no good, if you do not follow through.  It is the equivalent of having a great recipe for your favorite dinner, but no ingredients to cook it with.
            And as for our oil supplies?  Clearly, we are making a huge mistake being dependent on one region of the world for a critical supply where a large number of people want to destroy or fight against Western civilization.  The obvious alternative is to develop other sources of fuel; both for our current needs, such as oil, and also develop future sources of energy.  Otherwise, we will truly wake-up and find that our cupboard is as bare as Mother Hubbard’s.