By Nick Diamantides
The holiday season is in full bloom and, with all its hustle and bustle, the last thing most people are thinking about is the possibility of becoming a crime victim. That could be a big mistake, according to Signal Hill Police Sergeant Mike Reid, who warns that letting your guard down makes you more vulnerable to theft or worse.
“Make life difficult for criminals,” Reid says. “By taking a few precautions, you can reduce the risk to yourself and at the same time discourage criminal behavior.”
The most important thing, according to Reid, is to stay alert—watching for locations, situations and people that could indicate the likelihood of criminal acts. “When you step out of your house or any other building, make sure you are aware of what is around you,” Reid says. He warns that if you notice suspicious-looking people who seem to be loitering in the vicinity, you might want to avoid them, wait until they leave before you venture out, or call the police to express your concerns.
Reid also describes crime-prevention practices when walking in public places. He warns women to hold their purses tightly against their bodies, making it harder for purse-snatchers to grab them. He advises keeping your car keys in your hand as you walk toward your car to avoid lingering next to your auto, which sometimes invites criminals to strike. Keys in hand can also be used as a defensive weapon.
Staying alert and making eye contact also discourages criminal activity, he notes.
“Sometimes just looking at a person will keep them from trying to take advantage of you because they know you can identify them later,” Reid says. “Making eye contact with them is a good preventative tactic.” He explains that most criminals look for timid people who don’t seem to be aware of their surroundings, but if you walk confidently and look at them, they might wonder why you are not afraid. That alone sometimes deters them from selecting you as a victim.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should stop and have a conversation with someone who looks suspicious. The old adage, “Don’t talk to strangers,” is still good advice for people walking alone, especially if you have reason to believe the person is up to no good. Reid says just keep walking.
At night, he urges people to park in well-lit areas and to avoid walking in alleys or on dark sidewalks, if possible. “These are just common-sense things, but sometimes people do things without thinking that make them vulnerable to the criminal element,” Reid says. He notes that if you pull into the parking lot of a store and see one or more suspicious-looking people loitering in front of the building, it might be a good idea to drive to another store.
Riding public buses also requires crime prevention tactics, according to Reid. He advises keeping a distance between yourself and suspicious people at bus stops, even if that means waiting in front of a well-lit area a short distance from the bus stop until you see the bus approaching.
“When you’re on the bus, keep your jewelry out of sight, rotate diamond rings so the stone does not show, keep your purse tight to your body, change seats if someone starts to bother you and report suspicious activity to the driver,” Reid says.
When you’re at work, do not leave wallets or purses anywhere in plain view. “Thieves sometimes just look for something they can grab quickly when no one is looking,” Reid says.
Holiday gift shopping is another activity that requires caution. “Don’t leave gifts, purses, wallets or valuable items in your car’s interior,” Reid notes. “Make an extra trip home to unload your car, or put everything in the trunk.”
At home, keep windows and doors locked and report suspicious people or activities in the neighborhood to the police. “The goal is to convey the message that it’s going to be very hard to get away with a crime in your home or neighborhood,” Reid says.
The last bit of advice the sergeant offers is to call the police immediately if you suspect someone else is being victimized. “If you hear a heated exchange, or see pushing, shoving or any other type of violence, or anything that looks like someone is being victimized, call us right away,” he says. “You may be the only person calling the police for help and you would want someone to call us if you were in need of help.”
In Signal Hill, when making an emergency call on your cell phone, call (562) 989-7201. Dialing 9-1-1 on a cell connects you to the highway patrol.