We all do it at one time or another, but I’ve noticed that many people do it all the time. I always say to myself, “Boy, if I were a criminal….”
One summer morning I stopped for gas on my way to work. It was about 6 a.m. I got out of my car, locked the doors, and pumped my gas. No one else was around. As I was standing there, I noticed a woman, about 25 to 30 years old, pull up in a nice newer Pontiac.
This woman had her eyes off of her vehicle for at least five to six minutes. That would be plenty of time to take her car and possessions, and get away without anyone knowing where I was going.
She parked by the front door and disappeared into the convenience store. Her car was still running, windows down, radio blaring. As I went inside to pay for my gas, I walked past her car. Her key was in the ignition, alongside a number of other keys to her house, office, and private life. Her purse was sitting on the front passenger seat, wide open. I could clearly see her cell phone, address book, check book, and wallet.
As I entered the store and paid for my gas, I could see that the woman was busy pouring herself a cup of coffee and trying to decide between the jelly filled and the glazed Krispy Kremes. I walked outside and got back in my car, started it, and then waited. About another three minutes passed before the owner of the Pontiac emerged from the store, donuts and coffee in hand. She got in her car and drove away. I see this way of thinking and this behavior from people just about every day.
Now I’m sure that many of you reading this are probably thinking the exact same thing I was: when that women at the gas station went inside, I could have taken her car, her money, her identity. I could have had access to her home and to her place of business. And the list goes on.
This woman had her eyes off of her vehicle for at least five to six minutes. That would be plenty of time to take her car and possessions, and get away without anyone knowing where I was going. Worse for her, I could have climbed into the back seat to wait for her–and I could have done it in less than ten seconds, because that’s all the time it would have taken.
I went by my small bank one afternoon to make a deposit. As I stood in line I noticed several things about the patrons of the bank, the bank staff, and the bank itself. First, I noticed that there was only one door to enter and exit. That always leaves me feeling uncomfortable in the event that I have to make a fast emergency exit. I guess I could grab a chair and break out the huge twelve foot window if I had to.
(Come to think of it, I would probably get a great deal of pleasure from that.) There were cameras above each teller’s workstation, but most likely they are never monitored, only recording in the event something does happen. Now this one makes me laugh: the counter had two-inch thick bulletproof glass all around the tellers. Directly in front of the teller was a sliding two-inch thick bulletproof window that was slid wide open during business hours–Hmmmm?
I could tell where each person standing in line kept their wallet and money by the way they removed them from their purse or pocket. When they left, I knew exactly where their fresh wad of money was kept for safekeeping. As each one ended their banking business and exited the teller area, not one person looked me in the eye. They looked down at the floor, and exited the bank, feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
I noticed that the bank manager’s office was in the middle of the lobby, where everyone who came in was greeted. How nice, but how convenient for criminals. The guy in charge sits at an open desk, bank keys bulging in his front right pocket. He knows the codes and access to every door and vault.
I could clearly see the people’s names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, account numbers and routing numbers…
Speaking of door codes, the door that leads to the teller location, back offices, and the money vault is secured with a pushbutton code lock. Not a digital keyboard type, but a big beefy brass thing with large black buttons. It is probably a good lock, but that doesn’t help any when the manager pushes the buttons without covering his actions—by the way, the code is 5984.
As I approached the teller area to conduct my business, I saw other people’s checks and copies of their banking business sitting out in the open on the teller’s desk. I could clearly see the people’s names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, account numbers and routing numbers, plus the amount that was just deposited or withdrawn.
One teller left her purse sitting about five inches from my hand, and her keys were even closer to me. In fact, her keys were in plain view for anyone except her. Clearly visible on her key ring were car keys and remote, house keys, and what looked like the bank door keys. That’s right, I said bank door keys.
For a criminal who is looking to obtain some potentially easy money, there seems to be a lot of promise in a five minute stop at a local bank. And I don’t mean by way of pulling a gun and yelling for people to hit the floor.
One Saturday afternoon, I drove through a quaint, small town. You know the type: one stoplight, one bar, one gas station. A town where people probably still leave their doors open and feel that nothing bad could possibly happen there. I noticed a girl, probably eight or nine years old, walking towards the town’s one gas station and convenience store. She wore a small sundress, her hair was in pigtails, and she had a big ol’ smile on her face and a wad of cash in her hand.
The sidewalk she was walking down was narrow. There were no trees to speak of, and only a few houses strewn about. I looked around and noticed that not only was she walking alone, but also that there was no one else around. I mean no one. No one watering their lawn, no kids on bikes, no adults driving by, no one at all. I wondered where her patents were, and why they would let a little girl walk to the store or anywhere alone. I won’t go into detail, but imagine what could have happened.
I like watching criminals stalk their prey. What I mean by that is that the trained eye can not only spot potential victims of crime, but the villains who are about to make them a victim. Criminals have certain body language, cues, signals and signs that many times make them easy to spot in a crowd, if you know what you’re looking for.
Much like a prospective victim who shows signs of an easy kill, (figuratively speaking, I guess) criminals, albeit very discreet and sly at times, still do things that project them as someone who is up to no good. I’m sure you’ve seen people like that in your daily routines. Those who, when you look at them, the hair stands up on the back of your neck, give you that shiver, that gut feeling, that you must walk away.
Of course, you may not be able to pick out the predator so easily, even if you are vigilant. I’ve always been told not to fear the criminal you see, but to fear the criminal you don’t see.
Go into any casino, airport, busy subway, crowded club, or bustling downtown area, and the criminals really put on a show. They know that places like these are filled with potentially easy prey that is easy pickings with little to no effort. From the fine art of picking pockets to sleight of hand with your briefcase, casino chips, or jewelry, to the down and dirty armed robbery or physical beating during a severe mugging, these dirtbags are everywhere, and hungry for blood or money. Some make it look so easy, and that’s because it is.
By the way, don’t think that when I actually witness these acts going down that I just sit back and watch the show. If I see something bad happening to a good, decent, law-abiding citizen, I’ll intervene, in one way or another.
These are just a few examples of my daily observations. There are many others that catch my eye, and make me shake my head in disbelief at how vulnerable people are. They expose themselves to danger, and are so susceptible to becoming a victim. There are so many people with the “it will never happen to me” mentality, and the attitude that they think they know what they are doing, when they don’t. It’s no wonder that so many of them are victims of crime.
I guess I’m lucky that I have the ability to think like a criminal. It allows me to try and stay one step ahead of the real criminals. And it’s lucky for the people I come in contact with that I’m not a criminal, because if I were….
[ Jerrod S. Smelker is the owner and senior instructor for Edge Advantage Consultants, a Michigan based business which conducts seminars and courses for law abiding citizens in the subjects of crime prevention, firearms, safety and security. Smelker is also an instructor with the Online Police Academy’s Officer Safety, Security and Survival course for law enforcement and security personnel. He can be reached at email@example.com ]
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