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The holiday season always brings with it two things: the familiar and comforting of the holiday season with sounds, smells, and views.

With it also comes a spike in crime that brings the criminal elements. These criminals take advantage of the abundance of targets. Many of these targets can be unlocked vehicles filled with gifts and packages. But they can also be an unprepared, untrained, and complacent person who is now a target for their belongings.

A trained individual is typically less likely to be a victim. Regardless most people can benefit from a few practical habits that would significantly enhance safety and security. These simple habits can help them enjoy the holidays in peace and joy. When applied to one’s daily routines, the advantage is that these habits will improve how one views the world. Not in the sense of making us paranoid, but with a critical eye that would allow you to keep yourselves, your loved ones, and your belongings safe and secure.

Habit 1: Be Prepared

By being prepared, your chances of being a victim drop significantly. Begin with a proactive approach to your life rather than being reactive.

One of my favorite examples is when a student asks: “What should I do if I am downtown Baltimore at 2 am, and someone comes at me with a gun?”. My answer is always the same: “don’t be in downtown Baltimore at 2 am!”. Problem solved.

So how do we prepare? You can do knowing where you are going and plan your route to avoid bad areas. Plan to go with a friend and know where you’ll park. Know the quickest and safest way to get to the destination. When in doubt about whether the trip is safe, err on the side of caution and change your plans. No shopping sale is worth putting your life at risk.

Habit 2: Transfer of risk

By transferring risk, your goal is to harden yourself as a target. Criminals are cowards who seek the easier target and path of least resistance. When choosing between you and another person, make yourself seem like the less attractive target. Imagine two people; one has their head buried in their cell phone while walking to the car, and the second is scanning the environment, keys between the fingers, and keeps their head on a swivel. Which one seems like a victim to you? Don’t be that person.

This habit extends to your house, car, or wherever else you find yourself. Compare two houses; one has a dog, fence, exterior lighting, and cameras throughout the property. The second house has nothing but a storm door. Which one is more likely to be the targeted house? The answer is obvious. Please understand that there are no absolutes. The presence of heightened security may not deter a person from targeting an individual or a house. But all else being equal, as far as crimes of opportunity go, making yourself less appealing as a target, you enhance your overall safety.

Habit 3: Pay Attention

Awareness is key. This doesn’t just apply to your surroundings but also listen to that inner voice. This is the voice that tells you when something is off. If you feel like something is out of place, or the hairs on your neck begin to rise, take a moment to evaluate what triggered this sixth sense.

Ignoring signs of danger is a common modern-day ailment. In a good way, we feel safe most of the time, so as a result, we ignore signals. This sense has been developed through an evolutionary process to keep us safe from predators, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. Regardless of the threat, be it a prehistoric sabertooth or a gangbanger, our gut is a tool that shouldn’t be ignored. The popular saying “see something, say something” certainly holds true. Saying something may not necessarily mean seeking the authorities and may just be taking a second to listen to your sense of danger and reassess your overall safety.

Habit 4: Spatial Awareness

With this, one crucial element to note is knowing where you are in space. Do not find yourself cornered with no opportunity for egress if something breaks bad. Always know where exits are, and keep evaluating your surrounding to ensure you have room for movement, free of obstacles. Obstacles may not mean walls and objects, but also other people, such as crowds, and environmental elements. These other elements need to be considered in the event you have to escape, or create space between you and a possible assailant.

Habit 5: Have a Buddy

In the law-enforcement world, we refer to the team approach as the “contact person and cover person”. While interacting with another individual, you may miss signs of something being out of place. This may be the other person’s body language or something in the environment. While you are engaged with someone, a cashier or salesperson in a store, you may not pick up those changes. But with a partner or buddy, the hope is that they would take action and keep you safe or, if need be, engaging with the target.

Habit 6: Carry Your Tools

Be prepared for any emergency. If you have the tools and training, then carry those tools, from a firearm to pepper spray. Recognize the limitations of each. For example, firing a pistol in a very densely populated mall may be a bad idea, same with dispersing pepper spray against the wind. Every tool has its strengths, but also its weaknesses) and use judgment if needed. More importantly, know how to respond if something is or has already happened. You might dial 911 or call a loved one, or render first aid. In some cases the best thing we can do is be a good witness and a good Samaritan.

The holiday season is “the most wonderful time of the year”. And for a good reason. You can significantly increase your safety with a few small steps and good habits. As cliche as it may sound, “don’t be a victim” truly is up to you. With few exceptions, taking proactive steps can significantly decrease the chances of finding yourself on the wrong end of a potentially violent act.

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