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The holiday season has already included several high-profile crimes, including the fatal stabbing of a Macy’s security guard and two active shooter situations in Texas and Las Vegas.
Retired Reno Police Lt. Joey Walker, who teaches self-defense to civilians, predicted this spike in violent crime in an interview with Fox News Digital last week.
He followed up with safety tips for holiday shoppers and fun-seeking elves to protect themselves in various situations, along with indicators of potential trouble and what typical criminals consider “soft targets.”
“The holiday season is a time when family and friends come together for celebrations and visit stores to shop for presents for the special ones in their lives,” Walker said. “Although those times can be joyous for many, they’re also situations where criminals purposely target innocent people.”
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Holiday crimes accounted for 8.1% of all crimes committed in 2021, according to a November 2022 Porch Research study, which highlighted surging reports of burglary, theft and scams.
Workplace and domestic violence fueled by excessive drinking, heightened emotions, depression and financial stress spike this time of the year.
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Walker doesn’t want holiday shoppers to be crippled with fear. Instead, he wants them armed with knowledge like these five tips to be safe.
“Knowing this allows us to be forewarned to protect ourselves from criminal offenders,” he said.
Know your surroundings
“One of the first things we should do to prepare ourselves is to be aware of our surroundings and the people within our immediate environment,” Walker told Fox News Digital.
“We cannot afford to miss important clues that may alert us that a crime is occurring or about to occur in our presence.”
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Specifically, he said to look for people loitering in a certain spot, pay attention to their appearance and note their behavior. For example, does someone or a group seem like they’re coming closer or do you think they’ve been following you since you left a store?
“Evaluate people in your environment and place them into one of three categories: Threat, no threat or not sure,” he said. “As you go about your day, take a few seconds to make those evaluations.
“If, at any time, a person or group of people appear as either a threat or possible threat to the personal safety of another, the best course of action is to take immediate steps to leave the area. You don’t need to make an excuse, just leave.”
An important part of situational awareness is keeping your eyes off phones and not blasting music in both headphones, said Walker, who suggested using one earpiece.
“That allows you to pick up on sounds or commotion that will alert you to potential danger,” he said.
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That’s particularly important in large, destination-type cities, like New York City, during times of civil unrest. He mentioned the Israel-Hamas war, and the rowdy — and, at times, violent — clashes between protesters throughout the U.S.
“Remaining in the environment will only increase your chances of having an unwanted encounter with the threatening individual or group,” Walker said.
Know what lurking criminals are preying upon
The number of street-level crimes, most notably muggings, robberies, car break-ins and burglaries, jump this time of year.
Walker said criminals want “soft targets.” That’s typically distracted shoppers who are by themselves and will offer little to no resistance.
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That’s why he suggested always shopping in pairs or in groups, and alert your friends if you think someone “seems more interested in you than the items in the store.”
“Take several of your close friends or relatives along for the outing,” Walker said. “Not only will it be more fun, but there will be more of you to look out for one another.”
At the register, “nothing says rob me like pulling out a wad of cash,” said Walker, who suggests using debit or credit cards and limiting your wallet’s exposure.
Bought too many things to hold and need to drop them off in the car? “Don’t cover them up with a towel or blanket,” he said.
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Walker joked about a sheet covering a mound of valuables in the back seat of a car.
“I guess that’s supposed to say, ‘Nope nothing here.’”
That couldn’t be further from the truth, he said. It invites criminals to break the car window and grab what they can after you walk away.
He suggested putting the items in the trunk, if it’s blocked from someone’s view, or better yet, driving to a different parking spot.
“Get inside your vehicle and drive to a totally different side of the mall,” Walker said. “This might make the would-be criminal think you left the area entirely.”
Don’t be a hero; “Things can be replaced … life can’t”
If you’re attacked, and the criminal threatens you with a weapon, just give up your stuff, Walker said.
Most of the time, that’s all they want. Muggers don’t want a violent altercation. Their weapon, if they have one, is typically for intimidation, according to the retired decorated cop. But he said it’s not worth risking a criminal’s rash decision to hurt you.
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“Let them take your items and be on their way,” he said. “Let them be the Grinch. You can always obtain more stuff, but you can never get another life.”
There’s an asterisk to this tip, Walker noted, and that’s if the criminal “wants to abduct or sexually assault their victim.”
That’s when the victim “must use immediate and violent physical resistance and do whatever it takes not to go anywhere with the offender,” Walker warned.
If the victim can’t overpower the suspect, Walker said, the best defensive strategy is to gouge their eyes or throat.
“If the offender cannot see or breathe, it’s very difficult for them to continue their attack,” he said.
Seek safety in parking garages and parking lots
It’s nearly impossible to get that miraculous parking spot right outside the store’s entrance.
In a parking garage or parking lot, Walker suggested finding a well-lit space near other cars, and again walking in pairs or groups.
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“As you walk to and from your vehicle, listen for clues that may alert you to danger,” he said. “If you need to walk by yourself, don’t walk too closely to the parked vehicles. Walk down the center aisle, move out of the way of oncoming vehicles, and come back to the middle.”
This allows space on your left and right, and doesn’t give a potential hiding attacker a chance to blitz you in a surprise attack.
Have a Plan A and a Plan B
Finally, things don’t always go to plan, so it’s important to know what your first course of action would be and have a backup idea, Walker said.
“Some emergency plans may or may not prevail after making initial contact with the actual emergency,” he said. “For that reason, it is always better to have an alternate plan of action just in case Plan A may not be a viable option.”
Again, these tips are not to scare holiday shoppers. They are intended to make sure everyone is safe, so they can go home to their family, friends and loved ones.