Last Thursday at 7:55am, I approached the intersection of Stone Way & 35th on foot. I wanted to cross Stone Way. But there was a guy standing there are the intersection, shaking uncontrollably and unsteady on his feet. I hung back until the light changed, then passed him.
After crossing the intersection, I turned left headed toward Solsticio. I wasn’t thinking about the man at the stop light anymore. But as I turned to drop something in a trashcan a block later, I saw that man out of the corner of my eye. He was practically on my back! How did he do that so fast and so quietly?
He shuffled off another direction the moment I spotted him.
I think the term is “shadowed.” I was shadowed. What we he after? My wallet? Backpack? Slicing open the backpack in the hopes that a nice iPhone would drop out? Who knows.
But I started thinking — I walk this neighborhood a lot. I know where I am. I’m generally aware of people around me. I know when something looks out of place. How did this happen? How did I get surprised like that? And what would I have done if the man had grabbed my property and/or assaulted me? Should I carry pepper spray in the future? Take a self-defense course?
Enter Diane Horswill, SPD North Precinct Crime Prevention Coordinator, who graciously agreed to share some personal safety tips with Wallyhood:
- Walk like you drive. Glance over your shoulder periodically when walking, just like you would check a rear view mirror in a car.
- If you are approached by someone, make sure you are not near a building or fire hydrant. You want to have room to move and escape.
- Plant your feet. Stand in a defensive position.
- If the person is approaching you and/or means you harm:
- Say, “BACK AWAY” “WHO ARE YOU?” or “LEAVE ME ALONE!” This will alert bystanders that something is wrong. And will allow someone who is simply violating your space or mistaking you for someone else to remedy the problem.
- Most people get hurt resisting. Do anything you can to save your life; fight to protect yourself, but not your property. Don’t fight over property.
- If someone says, “Hand over your wallet,” try dropping some cash on the ground. If the perpetrator picks it up, you gain a few moments to move away.
- Use a double-wallet that has a secret insider zipper where you keep your most valuable items. Then if you do get asked to empty your wallet, you may still get to hang on to those special items.
And still other tips about life as a pedestrian:
- Talking on your phone may help you feel safer, but you’re not safer. Do not talk on the phone while walking. It is a distraction.
- If someone asks you a question, step back from them as you answer it. Doing so can prevent snatchings. Diane doesn’t even stop when asked for the time on the street, she just answers as she continues walking.
- Most of the time, muggers do not run up and attack you. You’d see them coming. Instead, they like to be in more control. They’re likely to walk up and ask a polite question. If asked for directions or the time of day, beware of that moment when you look at your watch or phone. You’re now distracted & easier to victimize.
- Most muggers don’t look like bad guys. They look reasonable & you don’t get your defenses up. Always be alert, even when people around you look “normal.”
- Avoid pepper spray. If someone is close enough for you to spray them, they’re close enough to knock the canister out of your hand. On the flip side, if the person is further away & you manage to spray them, you’ll have a hard time justifying your use of the spray.
- Instead, Diane recommends using a mini foghorn in a can, sold at marine stores. Nobody gets hurt, you’ll get the attention you need from other people nearby (Diane says cars will stop on the street!), and you just might startle the perpetrator well enough to give you an edge. The horn can’t be used against you, either.
- Avoid whistles. When frightened, your breathing changes and a whistle can be too hard to use.
- Again, be sure to yell, “Who Are You?” and “Leave Me Alone.” That’ll guarantee that passersby know you’re possibly in trouble.
Fisheries Supply at 1900 North Northlake Way carries tiny little signal horns in a can for about $7. Actually, they have lots of cool stuff in that store. Cleaning supplies, storage items, clothing, moisture sucker uppers. And plenty of mini foghorns. We can all have one. Stay safe out there, everybody!
Wallyhood wishes to thank Diane Horswill for so kindly sharing her expertise with us. Anyone ever thinking about calling SPD, but aren’t sure who to call or whether to call at all, Diane’s a wonderful, entirely approachable resource. Contact her at (206) 684-7711 or diane.horswill at seattle dot gov.