Prevention, caution, and vigilance:
By Diana Bello Aristizábal
December is not only a month of celebration but a time where people shop and visit restaurants, parks and other public venues more, which naturally increases the chances of becoming a victim of a crime or being in an emergency. For this reason, during this season it is recommended to reinforce personal safety without getting to the extreme of panicking or promoting panic in others.
According to Captain Nancy Gomez-Fernandez of the Doral Police Department, the city does not hold a high crime rate. However, because more people are outside in the streets during the holidays, some felonies may occur among which burglary and robbery stand out.
“Property crimes or burglary are the most common ones. Someone incurs in one of them when entering a car without permission to take something out or steals a purse in a mall while its owner is distracted”, explains Captain Gomez-Fernandez.
The problem with these crimes is that they usually lead to other ones since normally those who steal a purse also use the credit cards found within to make purchases.
On the other hand, during this time robberies may also occur, although in the Doral area they are less common. This happens when someone makes a physical threat with a weapon or pretending to have one to create fear in a victim.
Both property crimes and robberies generally take place when someone fails to use safety precautions putting himself or herself in a vulnerable position and, as a result, a potential offender finds the opportunity to commit them.
Also, some people are not only careless about their own safety but rely too much on social media posts related with criminal activity or emergencies and, even, share them changing information or without doing fact-checking first. This usually happens in false alarms cases.
“Social media has a downside which is that in some false alarm incidents people had claimed, through them, to have seen a man shooting when that was not proved, helping to spread panic. That is why we must be careful with what we read”, says Rey Valdes, Public Information Officer of the Doral Police.
In this line, the most important thing to avoid risks and safeguard personal well being is to follow the recommendations of the specialists, listed below, rather than following the trends and news that are online.
We can all contribute to reduce crime.
The best weapon against crime is to be prepared. “We must avoid becoming a victim and an easy target for those who are lurking because often times we are not cautious, and then we regret it,” says Rey Valdes.
The first step to follow that path is always to be aware of the surroundings. This does not mean to be paranoid or live with fear but using the five senses and, even more, the sixth one that refers to intuition.
“Is feeling butterflies in the stomach or that gut feeling which warns us that something is not right and we have to follow it. For example, if you are walking to your car and feel that someone is following you, go to a public and lighted place, if all else fails to call the police”, says Valdes.
On another note, it is important not to be alone especially during night hours, in dark places or where there are only a few people present like a parking lot. While there, it is essential to park in a lighted spot and keep personal belongings safe.
“We always have to lock our cars, roll the windows up and hide our belongings, which is the key message of our safety campaign: ‘Hide it, lock it or lose it’,” says Nancy Gomez-Fernandez.
While at a parking lot, it is also recommended to have the keys in hand before reaching to the car to avoid getting distracted when opening the purse to look for them, as criminals are in the lookout for inattentive people.
During Christmas shopping season it is best not to carry all credit and identification cards but to plan in advance what stores to visit, decide which cards will be used and leave the others at home so that in case of theft it is less complicated to cancel or recover the documents.
Also, it is also important to take safety measures when doing online shopping. According to Gomez-Fernandez, the main risk is that many times shipping companies leave packages at the door unattended, at the risk of having someone take them away.
To prevent this from happening, the suggestion is to activate the option of requesting a signature, on the purchase website, when the package is being delivered; to ask in it what are the alternatives in case of loss or theft and find a trusted person who can be in charge of receiving the package.
If you have doubts about the website, do not use a debit card but only credit cards because the first ones are connected to the bank account, which means that if a fraud happens the bank will freeze the account until the case is solved.
Furthermore, while shopping it is key to identify and notify any suspicious behavior. “It all depends on the context, but if, for instance, a man is wearing a coat in a 90 degrees temperature, that may be considered suspicious”, says the Captain, who suggests calling 911 in an emergency or 305 4 POLICE in a non-emergency situation.
If you have been a victim of a robbery, find a safe place before calling 911. When you do, provide as many details as possible of the offender like a license plate number, physical features, tattoos or watches.
“The sooner you report the incident, the more opportunities there will be to start an investigation that results in an arrest,” says Nancy Fernández.
What to do during an emergency?
In addition to the previous crimes, due to the large number of people who visit malls and other public places during this season, emergency situations, such as massive robberies, fires or an active shooter case, can occur for which it is convenient to be prepared even when its incident is low.
According to a brochure of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in the face of an active shooter, three basic steps must be followed: evacuate, hideout and, as a last resort, take action against the perpetrator.
The first one refers to escaping as far as possible from the place where the threat takes place, the second to seeking protection anywhere such as a store, a restroom or a closet until the police arrive with the purpose of getting out of sight from the active shooter.
The last option is to neutralize the attacker with whatever object or method you have close by. “What matters here is to survive, so if you have a chair or a phone, throw them out. It is not recommended to use firearms, because although many people carry them legally, in a situation like this, they can be counterproductive”, explains the captain.
The reason behind this is that when the police arrive at an emergency of this type, they do not know who are the shooters and who are the victims, so if they see a gun being pulled out or fired by someone who is defending himself or herself, they can mistake the person for a criminal.
If it is an emergency not related to a criminal act, such as a fire alarm, the way to go is to evacuate following the instructions of the personnel in charge. It is important to walk in an orderly manner and without causing harm because many times panicked people pass over each other to get out.
As a conclusion, in the face of danger, one must act with caution, follow the instructions of the police or people in charge who are stopping the threat, keep calm and not let emotions take control.
According to Érika Angulo, a mental health therapist, in an emergency of any kind, emotions play an essential role since they condition the way people react. Therefore, it is important to be in contact with them to manage them and protect ourselves in a threatening moment.
“In an unexpected event like this, the primitive brain stands out, and this does not think but reacts. The main resource to regulate it and face any traumatic event is deep and conscious breathing, which allows us to calm physically and emotionally”, advises Angulo.
When you breathe you can choose the best way out during an emergency, such as evacuating or hiding out. “When people know how to breathe they have a greater awareness of what they feel, and in that sense, they can clear their mind to make a decision,” says Angulo.
However, as it is a skill that is acquired over time, it is recommended to find other mechanisms to deal with strong emotions and practice them regularly, such as praying, counting to 10 or meditating so that in a difficult situation the emotions can be dominated automatically.
It should be noted that the most useful people during an emergency are those who are in control of their emotions, as they not only help themselves but can also assist those who panic by teaching them to breathe. By doing so, the heartbeat goes down, there is better contact with reality and, finally, panic disappears.