Plan Ahead to Outsmart the Bad Guys

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2014 20:22

Being savvy and thinking ahead are the keys to staying safe as we get older.

According to the FBI, one person in 258 nationwide was victim of a violent crime – murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery or aggravated assault – in 2012. One in 35 was burglarized or had a car stolen.

The good news is that those statistics are considerably lower in the Mother Lode. There is on average one violent crime annually for every 400 people and one property crime for every 80 in Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amador counties.

The bad news is that violent crimes and property crimes still happen here – and older adults can be especially vulnerable if they’re not prepared.

“The elderly are often told that they are victims,” says safety expert John Popke, 54. He and his wife, Tami, run Weapons Training School in Soulsbyville.

Scuttle the victim mentality, he urges, and tell yourself you have what it takes to win. Then plan what you’ll do if you come face-to-face with bad guys.

Popke knows this strategy works. He is a 28-year law enforcement veteran, most of it as a prison correctional officer and as a SWAT-team member and trainer. He has received four California Medals of Valor and was the state’s Correctional Officer of the Year for 2007.

Popke has dealt with thousands of criminals and has taught hundreds of people – from peace officers to senior citizens – how to avoid being a victim.

Practice mental imagery

Popke says studies have shown that athletes who engage in mental imagery to prepare for competition have much better results than those who only prepare physically. In his experience, seniors who prepare for crime are more likely to react effectively.

“Think, what would I do if …” Popke advises, and practice it at least once a week. “Your mental capabilities improve with regular brain exercise.”

Ask yourself what you’ll do if you hear someone breaking in through your back door. If you’re in the living room, where will you go? If you’re in the kitchen, where is the phone?

Couples should practice together, he says, so they can coordinate effectively in an emergency.

Have at least one “safe room” in your house, a bedroom or bathroom with a locking door and a window you can escape through. Keep a phone there along with a baseball bat, cane, golf club, whistle, bear spray or pistol – whatever will help you stay safe.

From the secure room, you can yell that you have a gun – even if you don’t. Scaring the intruder away is your priority. Make a lot of noise. Call 911. Plan an escape.

“Don’t lock yourself in a room with no windows,” warns Popke. You don’t want to be trapped if you need to flee your home, or if an intruder takes unexpected action – like setting fire to your house.

Be ready to shatter a window to get outside – “break and rake,” as Popke says.

Use a chair, baseball bat or whatever is handy to break the window, then rake the sharp ends of the glass away. Put a towel on the sill so you don’t cut yourself.

Rehearse what to do if a criminal has already entered your home.

“If you act within 3.5 seconds you’re going to catch him off guard,” explains Popke, citing research on optimal windows of time. Scream “Put down the gun” or “I have a gun.”  Blow a whistle, do anything to surprise the attacker, then get out of the house or to your secure room fast.

Popke suggests keeping important documents and jewelry in a small safe bolted to the floor or wall so that a thief can’t walk away with them. But if it’s a matter of your safety or your valuables, he says, “Let them have what they want. You are more important.”

Phone tips

Place phone handsets throughout the house so that you can call for help from any room. “My dad is 91, and he has a phone every 15 feet,” Popke says.

Tape your address in large print to each phone so you can give necessary information on the run. “When we’re under stress, the first thing we forget is our address,” he notes.

When you call 911, tell the dispatcher where you live, what you are wearing and what you look like. If a gun is involved in your emergency, officers could be at your door in a matter of minutes; otherwise, response time – especially in rural areas – could be significantly longer.

Officers should arrive with lights and sirens. If you’re not sure the person is a police officer, ask him or her to slide identification under the door or show it through a window.

RWM_4719-editedFront-door precautions

When someone you don’t know knocks and yells for help, don’t open the door and don’t stand in front of it.

Instead, move back several feet and talk through the door. Most exterior doors are secured only at the lock and deadbolt, and it’s not hard to kick them down. If that happens, you don’t want to be knocked over, and you need room to run. Have a phone in your hand and tell the possible intruder that you’re calling 911.

Inexpensive motion-detector alarms “work like gold for doors and windows,” says Popke. If a door is jarred, the alarm sounds. They’re easy to install, run on batteries and are available at hardware and home stores or online starting at $15 to $25. Motion-detector lights around the outside of your house also deter intruders.

Some criminals work in pairs, Popke notes. One will knock at the front door while another kicks in the back door. The alarm gives you time to get to your safe room, and the sound may scare them away.

Popke and his wife keep high-powered flashlights (at least 150 lumens) in strategic places throughout their home. If an unknown person knocks at the door, Popke goes to the door with a cane as a weapon and the bright flashlight to shine into the potential intruder’s eyes.

“It’s not respectful,” he acknowledges, “but it’s a super deterrent.”

Shop safely

It’s important to remain aware and have a safety plan for around town or on the road.

When you go shopping, be careful about what you leave in your car and lock the doors. Burglars can learn your address from mail on your car seat and hit your home while you’re gone. When away from your vehicle, keep your garage door opener, mail and registration in the trunk.

Stay alert: During the holidays, Popke watched a man stroll out of a Wal-Mart with a high-end electronic device. He left this purchase in his car with its door wide open while he returned the shopping cart. Women often dump their purses on the front seat and also leave their car doors open as they return carts. Both are great opportunities for a thief to make a quick and costly grab.

Shoppers often get distracted. When trying on that pair of pants, don’t leave your purse in the dressing room. It’s quick work for a thief to slide under the partition from the adjoining stall and snag it. Don’t put your purse in your grocery basket and walk away, and don’t leave it hanging open on your arm.

“Don’t carry everything of value in your purse or wallet,” Popke says. Leave all but the essentials at home.

He advises carrying essential cards and cash in your front pocket, for example, and carrying a “dummy” wallet in your purse or back pocket. If accosted by a robber, toss the fake wallet 10 feet behind him or her and run. Surprise is on your side.

Make sure you have a spare key for your car and keep it in a magnetized box under a bumper or in your wallet or purse.

Security on the road

Stay alert at rest stops. Park as close as you can to the restrooms and check out the area before you go in. If you’re traveling with someone, have your partner stand by the bathrooms or car while you go in, and then trade. Popke and his wife carry walkie-talkies on their trips.

Scan your car as you return from a restroom or diner. Stand back and look for someone under your vehicle or inside, and check your tires to make sure nothing has been placed under them to cause a puncture when you pull out.

If your car is disabled while you’re on the road and you must talk to someone, open your window no more than a quarter inch – even if the approaching person claims to be a plainclothes police officer. In urban areas, Popke says, carjackers have been known to spray acid through an open window to disable a driver.

Nice vs. safe

If you stop to help a driver whose car has broken down or to aid an apparent accident victim lying on the side of the road, says Popke, stop at least four car lengths back and assess the situation. If it feels suspicious in any way, drive away and call 911.

Several years ago, Popke stopped to check out a car that appeared broken down. He pulled over four car lengths back, assessed, and decided the situation didn’t feel right. As he drove past, he noticed a guy in the back seat of the “disabled” vehicle aiming a shotgun through the back window.

“Most older people are so nice,” Popke says. “I see the crime reports, and elderly people are getting hammered. Don’t be a victim. Your safety comes first.”

Editor’s note: Thanks to our lovely model Celia Seubert, a 91-year-old WWII veteran, for posing for the introductory photo. Read Seubert’s online memoir of her Coast Guard service.

 Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2014 20:22
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