Sheila turned out the lights and checked the security system. The childcare facility, which is so full of life during the day, seemed eerie at night. Sheila locked the front door and started to her car. “I wish I had parked closer this morning. This dark parking lot is scary,” she thought as she hurried to her car.
Do you fumble for your keys as you walk to your car? Have you ever withdrawn money from an isolated ATM at night or felt unsafe in a parking garage? You make choices every day that can affect your personal safety, like choosing a parking space or taking a different route home.
While people might assume most violent crime happens at night, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a little over half of violent crimes occurred between the hours of 6 a.m.-6 p.m. It is imperative to remain vigilant at all times, and you should consider your safety strategies when driving, walking, and parking, as well as when you are home.
Crime is frightening, but there are simple things you can do to reduce your risk of becoming a victim. Criminals look for signs of vulnerability; so planning ahead, staying alert, and observing basic precautions will make you a less attractive target.
When You Are in a Parking Lot
You have probably heard of people being attacked as they enter or depart buildings. Many childcare programs close after dark or open before daylight. When possible, walk to your car with a co-worker and wait until you have both cars started to drive away.
If you must leave alone, be prepared by carrying a flashlight and having your keys ready. As you approach your vehicle, scan the area for strangers, suspicious vehicles and other signs of potential danger.
When you park, make a mental note of where your vehicle is located. Searching for your car is a sign you are not paying attention, which can give a criminal time to follow you and plan an attack. Make sure you park in a well-lit area that is close to the building’s entrance, and avoid parking beside shrubbery or trees.
Trust your instincts. If you pull into a parking space and feel uneasy, move your car to another location. Always lock your car and place valuables and bags out of sight, ideally in the trunk. Many cars now come with “panic” buttons on the electronic keys that could be used to draw attention to your situation if you are in crisis. Before you leave to walk to your car, make sure your keys and cell phone are easily accessible.
When You Are Home
If you think of your house as a safe haven, think again. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that about 25 percent of violent crimes occur at or near the victim’s home.
When you arrive home, enter your home cautiously and be aware of signs of intrusion. If you believe someone has been in your home or may still be on the premises, leave immediately and call law enforcement.
One of the most effective deterrents to a criminal is also one of the most obvious: locked doors and windows. Make it a habit to lock your door when you come home; and keep windows locked, too.
Invest in solid-core doors and sturdy locks. Multiple locks are most effective, with double cylinder and deadbolt locks being some of the best options. If you have sliding glass doors, secure them with bars or locks; and if you do not have a peephole viewer in your door, consider having one installed.
If you live in an apartment, make sure that the entrance, parking lots, and other common areas have adequate exterior lighting. If you notice a burned-out light bulb, report it immediately to the property manager.
Make your neighbors part of your security system. A trusted neighbor can keep an extra house key for you so there is no need for one outside of your house. Neighbors can also watch your home while you are away and collect mail and packages that would indicate an empty house.
When You Are Driving
Many crimes occur on the road. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates there are about 34,000 carjackings each year. Always keep your car doors locked and your windows partially raised when you are driving.
Criminals will use any ploy or scenario, so be wary. If you are being followed by another car, drive to the nearest police station or attended gas station for help.
Some criminals rear-end other drivers in an attempt to get them out of their car so they can rob or carjack them. If you are rear-ended, signal the other driver to follow you to a public place to sort out the accident.
Keep your car in good repair so it is less likely to break down and leave you in a vulnerable situation. Always keep at least a half tank of gas in your car and your cell phone charged. Plan your routes to avoid isolated or high crime areas when possible, and always let someone know your travel plans.
When You Are Walking
Walking is great exercise; but to do so safely, choose busy, well-lit streets. If you can, walk with another person. Music can be distracting and alters your sense of hearing, so consider leaving the headphones at home.
Crime is a frightening reality, but there are steps you can take to lessen your risk of becoming a victim. Criminals are looking for the vulnerable and unprepared. Strengthen your personal defenses by trusting your instincts, planning ahead, and remaining alert.
Marna Holland, EdD
Parent Educator, Asheville City Schools Preschool, Asheville, NC
Personal Safety, www.santamonicapd.org/CrimePrevention/personal.htm
Safety Tips, www.ci.decatur.il.us/police/personalsafety.html