Last summer my daughter graduated high school and was soon accepted at the University of Arizona for fall semester. There were many preparations to make for starting school in September and not all of them related to academics. As her father I want her college experience to be enjoyable and rewarding; as a police officer I know there are things she must learn to also make it safe.
As a defensive tactics instructor, I have taught both police officers and civilians the “Use of Force” techniques for years. As a martial arts instructor, I have learned and then passed on many skills for attacks and defense. As a SWAT officer, I have been trained in the elements of speed, surprise and violence of action.
All these things are valuable but they all work under the premise that you are attacking someone or you have been attacked. I have always been of the mind the best way to protect yourself is to use your brain as much as muscle or a weapon – be aware of potential dangers, or use preventative measures.
So it became my job to give my daughter the information she would need to make decisions about to improve her safety on campus. It also became my job to train her in environmental awareness so she would slow down and take the time to look around.
So what do we need to do?
Planning starts with where your classes are and how you will get there. You don’t want to find out your daughter’s off-campus, late-night class is next to a drug rehabilitation center on the first day she shows up for class.
You need to drive to the building and see where it is. Classes on a main college campus generally have the student’s safety taken into consideration. The same cannot be said of off-campus classes.
What is the neighborhood like? Is the building easily accessible? Is there parking close by? Is there street and parking lot lighting? Are there places for someone to hide close by to the entrance of the building? All these questions can be answered simply by visiting the class first.
You must also establish a safe route to and from the building, especially for a nighttime class. Picking the best and safest route of travel is important, but you also need a secondary route in case the first has a traffic issue. After my daughter got her class schedule we drove during the day to all of her classes.
We got out of the car and looked around the buildings to see where the entrances and exits were, where the streetlights were and the walkways to the parking lots. It was important for her to know more than one way to arrive at each building and more than one way to leave each building.
Once you are at your destination drive past it a little and look at the neighborhood. Don’t pick the first parking spot you come to; instead pick the spot that works best for you. Stay in car and take a minute to look the area over and memorize where you are parked. All of these items add only a few minutes to your trip but greatly improve your safety.
Look before leaving
I have taught my daughter to look before leaving. It’s a very simple thing to do. After she parks her car, she looks around to see if anyone is standing close by before leaving the car. If someone is near and doesn’t appear to have a reason for being there, she can stay in the car or she can drive to another parking space.
This can also be done from any doorway. As you exit a building, stop in the doorway, with the door open and look out into the front of the building. If there is something you see that you are uncomfortable with, just go back inside. Ask someone inside the building to walk with you to your car or at least come to the doorway and watch you as you walk to your car. If there is nobody available, call the Campus Police and ask them to escort you to your car.
Don’t be distracted
While walking to your car take the time to look around. What you see might save your life. Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing a car driving erratically and so you do not cross the street until it has passed.
Other things need to be practiced and thought about while walking. Confidence is a trait that is easily recognized by all animals, humans included. A person who walks with their head erect, looking around, has a determined pace and solid bearing makes a less desirable target.
Watch everyone coming towards you. Someone who suddenly veers from their path to intercept your path is probably doing it for a reason. Walk toward the curb rather than close to the buildings. Criminals like to hide from view; many use the element of surprise as a weapon to lessen your defenses. The greater the distance between you and them makes you less of an appealing target.
Keep valuables hidden
Walking around campus I consistently see students carrying iPods, iPhones, iPads, laptops and other valuable equipment. Is it necessary to advertise that you have it? If you paid $400 for your 3G, Web-enabled iPad, carrying it openly is the same as walking around with four $100 bills in your hand.
How difficult is it to put all of your stuff in a bag and carry it that way? Stay away from computer bags; they are neon signs saying, “valuable stuff inside.”
Backpacks are an innocuous and efficient method of carrying your valuables. Everybody wears one and nobody knows if they have a $2,000 laptop in it or dirty underwear. MP3 players and Smartphones should be kept in pockets or bags.
Cell phones are perhaps the most useful tool in improving your personnel safety. Get in the habit of charging your phone at night so it is always ready by morning.
If you are by yourself and need to walk through an area that makes you feel uncomfortable, call a friend. From your car make the phone call and tell the friend where you are and why you are calling. Stay on the phone with them as you walk. If something feels wrong tell your friend what is happening. If they are on their cell phone, they can continue to talk to you while they dial 911 on their landline.
If you have an iPhone or an Android phone, you can download applications that have personal alarms. These applications allow you to have an alarm on your home screen. One touch sets off a strobe light and loud siren from your phone. Some even automatically dial a preset number of your choosing.
These are things I have taught my daughter, in hopes she will practice them and they will become second nature to her. Remember anything you can do to lessen yourself as a target increases your safety.
Criminals will always go for the easy target. Don’t make that easy target you.
David Kleinman is a tactical paramedic for Pima Regional Special Weapons and Tactics. He is a defensive tactics, physical fitness and firearms instructor.