Personal Safety: Using The Police Survival Approach

Countless individuals have gotten on an elevator with “that guy who creeps people out.” Others have accepted a drink from a person they just met at a bar, despite the fact that they should know better. As with the call of the wild, this is the tale of the predator stalking the prey. Personal safety is not at the top of their minds.

The solution is one that your local law enforcement officer understands. Intuition-spurred fight or flight needs to kick in for us as it does for animals. With either fight or flight, the danger has to be perceived and processed by the mind before you can react to the threat. In the case of fight, a conscious decision has to be made to take a combative stance. With flight, it’s deciding to run like for your life.
For humans as developed creatures, it is an approach that has been written off as being silly, perhaps even rude. We don’t want to be the person passing judgment, declaring that someone else is unfit for us to be around. It is often ignored until it is too late: the hunter has his catch. The time to turn back has long passed, and fate waits imminently for the outcome.
Responding to the signals that trigger fight or flight is an answer to personal safety that law enforcement officers are taught to embrace and use each day. Police officers and deputy sheriffs are interjected into dangerous situations on a regular basis and want come home safe from their dangerous shifts. Their response is exemplary and, like that employed by animals, is one you could learn from.
Here are a few tips that law enforcement uses to be safe. They are battle-tested, personal safety tactics that can help you minimize that potentially deadly encounter with the hunter:
Self-Talk. Cadets in basic police academies everywhere are taught to talk to themselves as they are on the way to calls for police service. They go through the steps that they will take in the situation that they are heading toward. You too can self-talk before you walk into a given situation. For example, if you are about to enter darkened parking lot or alley, go over ways that you could contact the office complex or mall security. Such an approach allows you to have a clear roadmap for your actions.
Visualize “What If” Scenarios. As with academy recruits, you should picture various scenarios that could take place. The newly-minted law enforcer thinks: “If a man jumps out with a knife there, I’d do X” and “If a domestic violence suspect tries to hit me, I’d do Y.” Going back to the darkened alley or mall scene, “what ifs” would include thinking of a course of action if a man with a knife jumped out to grab your purse. While you can’t possibly envision every possible outcome, you can mentally prepare yourself to react to the major possibilities.
Observe the Hands. Police officers are keenly aware at all times of where people’s hands are. They watch the hands as they telegraph all sorts of impending actions. Many people ball up their hands before they punch or grip a knife before they stab. For those in a bar, watch closely to make sure someone doesn’t pour a drug into your drink when they think you aren’t looking. Substances can’t be put into your drink without someone’s hands physically doing so. Watching the hands gives you some measure of reassurance.
Observe the Eyes. The eyes, in the same manner as the hands, let officers know what may be coming. A suspect glancing over the shoulder may be contemplating running to where they are looking, whereas a person looking at the officer’s gun may be thinking of grabbing it. As an example of an everyday, non-law enforcement scenario, watch where people look as they approach you on the street. Are they staring at that purse or laptop bag? If so, they may be thinking of grabbing it.
Listen to Your Inner Voice. As with the elevator situation, many victims of violence who have lived to tell the tale of life and death have reported that they knew beforehand that their safety was at risk. But they ignored that alarm bell by writing it off as being ridiculous, juvenile or bad mannered. Listen to that inner voice; it is trying to keep you alive. As you are waiting for the elevator, remind yourself that if you feel uncomfortable joining the person inside, you can politely decline to get in, or even tell the other passenger that you are waiting for someone else, and they can go ahead.
All of these methods, especially listening to your inner voice, have helped keep numerous police officials out of harm’s way while doing a difficult and dangerous job. They have been taught by many experienced and street-hardened police instructors and experts. Using the police officer’s techniques of intuition, keen observation skills, and situational variables can keep you safe as you go about your daily activities.
About the Author
Dr. Richard Weinblatt, The Cop Doc, is a former police chief, ex-criminal justice professor, and past police academy director who is an expert on police, crime, and safety topics. A speaker and book author, Dr. Weinblatt regularly writes articles and has been interviewed in the media including CBS News, CNN, MSNBC, and The Washington Post. To find out more or to contact Dr. Weinblatt, visit