September 2007Volume 3, Number 2
Table of Contents

Personal Protection Tips
Part II: The Street

By David Zachary Kaufman

I hate to think about how many of us are vulnerable once we set foot on the street outside our home or office. These tips will help you avoid trouble as you go to and fro. They should be considered supplemental to the Business Protection Tips also provided.

Let me share with you the following scenario which I recently read on the ABA listserve Solosez (the names are changed to protect the protagonists). A woman lawyer wrote:

One day I was walking in the courthouse downtown LA on the 6th floor. I was running late so I was walking pretty fast while wearing somewhat high heels and, of course, carrying a purse, a briefcase, and some heavy files.

I see this all the time. I see it in Court, out of court, walking around Washington, D.C. And it’s not just lawyers. It’s not women either. Other than the heels (more on that later) I see just this scenario frequently. In fact, how many times have you, gentle reader, seen just this scenario where the person is also checking their Blackberry or talking on the phone?

Now in the real-life event described above, our attorney lost her dignity and was embarrassed. No true damage. But imagine that same scene on the street. Or at night? Imagine what would have happened to her if there was someone about with bad intentions. Or a local opportunist. So, these tips will help you stay alert, undistracted, and alive.

Look around. And keep looking around. Don’t let yourself get distracted by the phone or Blackberry. It can wait. Which leads to my next point: Watch behind you. It is possible that an attacker will approach you from the front — unlikely but possible. More likely is that any problem will approach you from the side or rear. It’s harder for you to detect an attack then and respond. So stay alert. Listen for running steps approaching from behind. When you stop, check the reflection in the glass to see what’s behind you. When you have to stop at a corner to wait for traffic, look around.

I hate headsets, earbuds, phones, IPODS and MP3 players on the street. They distract you. They keep you from hearing what is going on around you. You don’t hear the car or bicyclist coming up behind. Do not use them.

On a similar note, I hate high heels, flip flops, women’s backless sandals, and other foot gear (I won’t call them shoes) that prevent the wearer from running away from a threat. Ladies, gentlemen, you wouldn’t wear hobbles on the street. Why wear foot gear that has the same effect? I don’t understand it and oppose it. There are perfectly adequate, professional-looking foot gear that won’t do these things. I just don’t get it and urge people not to do it.

When you are walking around, walk calmly and with good balance. Don’t swing your arms like a track meet, take normal steps, watch your footing. People who walk “funny” tend to be targets for muggers and other attackers.

As you walk down the street (or anywhere else) don’t walk between groups of people. When you do, you are surrounded. Not a good idea at all.

As the lady lawyer in the initial scenario learned, it’s a bad idea to carry a purse, a briefcase and files. Add a phone and it’s an absolute recipe for disaster. But there is a simple cure: Use a cart or wheeled briefcase, not multiple briefcases, purses etc. This lets you keep your balance and avoid problems. It also helps avoid back problems. I use them all the time.

They also have another use. I strongly recommend that you always have 1 hand free at all times. If our lady lawyer had done this, she might have avoided falling (or avoided getting hurt) when she tripped in her high heels. She could then have grabbed for support, had less trouble opening doors or pushing elevator buttons etc.

When you are looking around, listen to your instincts. Humans have evolved over millions of years and our survival instincts (if we actually pay attention to them) are strong. Pay attention to them. It is fashionable to criticize people for making snap judgments of others. But safety doesn’t have time to think and analyze and do a detailed investigation. By the time to complete your lawyerly investigation it’s too late.

Finally (at least for today) learn this tip, teach it to your children, preach it to all who can hear: Drop your stuff & run! One of the saddest things I ever heard was a little girl who was grabbed off the street. When we got her back I had a chance to talk to her. One thing we talked about was running away. She had tried, she told me but she couldn’t get away because she was carrying her backpack. And she knew that if she lost her backpack she would be in trouble — her parents had told her that. Don’t you make the same mistake.

David Zachary Kaufman, J.D., Ph.D. Websites: KAUFMAN LAW, A Professional Corporation;; and Qui Custodes, the Personal Protection Blog.

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