Intelligence Gathering for Personal Safety
by Tom Givens
My dictionary defines “intelligence” as follows:
“1. Capacity for understanding and for other forms of adaptive behavior; aptitude for grasping truths, facts, meanings; 2. Good mental capacity; 3. The faculty of understanding; 6. The gathering or distribution of information, especially secret information; 7. A staff of persons engaged in obtaining such information;”.
The selected definitions listed above accurately reflect what we mean when we refer to gathering personal intelligence. Make no mistake—the law abiding populace of this country is at war with the criminal sub-culture, and the gathering of accurate intelligence on the enemy’s identity, location, and strength is a vital part of planning your overall defensive strategy. Unless you are aware of the threat, how can you plan to counter it?
In this article we will examine some of the facets of personal intelligence gathering and processing, to assist you in a realistic threat assessment of your environment, and to provide forewarning in street encounters with likely threat sources. While this will not be an exhaustive examination of every threat, it will at least expose you to the main elements of some of the more common criminal types with which you will likely deal.
The purpose of this endeavor is to allow you to recognize subtle danger signs that will be present prior to an assault. By recognizing these cues, you can place yourself on alert, and be thinking about a planned response. As we discussed previously, being aware of a threat and having a plan in mind to deal with it greatly decreases reaction time, and helps overcome the mental inertia that slows down our response. When interacting with strangers, these subtle cues, once learned, can assist you in evaluating the proper degree of vigilance and readiness to act.
Be alert for these signs as you go through your daily routine. Forewarned is fore-armed.
One of the most common threats right now is that of the violent youth street gang, whether that gang has its origins in the black, Latino, Southeast Asian, or white communities. Street gangs, once confined largely to places like Chicago and Los Angeles, have now spread throughout the United States, driven largely by the lucrative market in illicit drugs, particularly cocaine and crack.
Street gangs become surrogate families of sorts for many members, providing the companionship, support, affirmation, and respect missing from their home life. This mutual bond among gang members is the source of one cause of violence against non-members. “Dissing” a gang member (showing disrespect to him or his associates) causes him to lose face in the eyes of his peers, unless redeemed by violence against the person showing the real or imagined disrespect. Since there are usually multiple members present, you are faced with an attack by all of them (fight one, fight them all). Other attacks are motivated by desire for your money, and carjacking is a common crime among youthful offenders, who take a new vehicle each night to use in the “cruising”, robberies, and drive-by shootings they have planned for the evening’s entertainment. In some organizations, gang members must commit a serious crime, such as shooting a stranger (you) in the presence of a senior gang member in order to move up in the social order. Regardless of the intent, these are dangerous individuals, and they must be taken seriously as a threat.
Gang grafitti is not just vandalism, it is a form of advertising and communication. Gangsters use graffitti to mark territory and to establish dominance, just as a predator might urinate on the tree trunks around the perimeter of his home range. Gang graffitti must be taken seriously as a red flag; its appearance around your place of business means that you must be on the lookout for gang members and activity.
Black street gangs in this country are typically affiliated with one of several major national groups. The best known of these are the Crips and the Bloods, which originated in Los Angeles, and The Folk Nation and The People Nation, which originated in Chicago. All of these groups have sent recruiters throughout the U.S., and there is now no area of the country completely free from their influence.
Bear in mind that graffitti is not the only form of expression in which these symbols are used. The same images often appear as tattoos, and these provide a ready means of identification. In the past, gang members usually sported “colors”, readily identifiable pieces of clothing, which made identification easier for both friend and foe. Examples included red or blue bandannas, and “dressing right, or left” which means cap brim turned a certain direction, or one pants leg rolled up and the other not. In most areas these practices have been abandoned, as they lead to attention from law enforcement officers on patrol. Now, tattoos are probably your best means of identifying gang members.
Among the major Latino gangs are the “Mexican Mafia” and Nuestra Familia, with their origins in Southwest U.S. prisons, and the Latin Kings, a common street gang. Tattoos are a prevalent form of communication among these gangsters, with often ornate, colorful, and extensive coverage. The Mexican national emblem, the eagle and snake, are common, as well as stylized initials like eMe (the pronunciation of “M” in Spanish, for the Mexican Mafia), and a crown in Latin Kings tattoos.
Among the most dangerous of the white gang types is the “Skinhead”, a white, neo-Nazi type that specializes in personal brutality, particularly violence directed towards Jews, blacks, homosexuals, and other “inferior” people. Skinheads got their name from the practice of shaving their heads, but again, this has been largely abandoned to prevent harassment (oops, I meant monitoring) by police. Heavy boots, suspenders (braces), muscle shirts, and black leather jackets or military style jackets are the principal mode of dress. Again, tattoos are your best indicator. The Celtic cross, Nordic or Viking artwork, and Christian religious symbols are the most common form of tattoos.
The other predominately white threat group is the “biker gang” or “outlaw bikers”. Bikers live in a culture all their own, in a world dominated by their motorcycle, degradation of women, drugs, and violence. Bikers seldom work in the traditional sense, but make their living from prostituting their “old ladies”, selling drugs, and working as enforcers for other criminal enterprises. Bikers tend to be extremely violence prone, especially if they perceive weakness in a victim or opponent, and they tend to be both well armed and often, better skilled than most other gang types. This makes them formidable adversaries.
Obviously, the most common indicator is the biker’s motorcycle, but this is not always present. Bikers often travel in other vehicles, and a group of bikers traveling on “business” will often be accompanied by a van containing back-up members, heavy weapons, including automatic weapons, and extra ammunition.
The primary indicator is the biker’s colors, a vest adorned with the symbols of his gang, and of his personal achievements. A biker wears his life story on his vest, with his status within the gang, his rank, his past deeds, and other information proudly displayed, although somewhat encoded. A biker will usually die before he will surrender, or risk loss of his colors. The same markings found on his colors will often be found in tattoos, which are quite common among bikers.
According to many authorities in law enforcement, as much as 80% of the crime in the United States is driven by the use of illegal drugs. From turf wars among drug dealers, to robberies to get money to buy dope, drug abusers are your single largest threat group. According to a recent detailed study by the FBI, 80% of the offenders studied who had killed police officers were under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or drugs and alcohol at the time of the fatal assault. Many types of drugs lower social inhibitions (this is why alcohol is so important to so many people at social functions). Unfortunately, these social inhibitions include the inhibition to kill a fellow human being.
The most commonly abused drugs in this country include:
Cocaine, Crack, Amphetamines, Methamphetamines, and other Nervous System Stimulants;
PCP, LSD, MDMA, and other Hallucinogens;
Anabolic Steroids, and of course,
Different types of drugs can cause different physical symptoms, of which you need to be aware. In addition, certain drugs can cause psychological effects on the offender that you must be prepared for. Remember that different people can have different reactions to drugs. A complete discussion of these drug types and their effects is outside the scope of this brief article, but the information is readily available.
In any major urban area, street contacts with mentally or emotionally disturbed persons are practically unavoidable. According to the American Psychiatric Association, one of every three Americans will suffer some form of serious mental or emotional illness at some point in his life. I’m OK, but frankly I’ve been a bit worried about you.
The most common group of mentally disturbed persons you will encounter is the “street person”, typically a homeless drifter, or “bum”, usually shabbily dressed, unkempt, bearded, and dirty. A lot of people will try to tell you that these people are helpless, harmless victims of the failed mental health care system. This is not typically true.
It is now extremely difficult in this country to involuntarily commit someone for a mental illness, even a serious one. Even disturbed persons who kill are typically stabilized with medication and released back into the public, with the frail hope that they will continue to faithfully take their medication without supervision. Most mentally ill street people have been placed in care homes or mental institutions at some point, but since they cannot be held there against their will, they left and went back on the street. In my experience, many of these persons prefer uncertain life on the street to the structured and confining life in an institution. Of course, once on the street and broke, they have no access to medications, and no one to evaluate their progress or deterioration.
In my area, for instance, I used to patrol a residential area which was a short distance from the main concentration of hospitals, including mental health facilities. We would arrest these \"disturbed persons” for theft, burglary, or assault so many times we knew them all by name. Some were not violent, some were. In court, the judges recognized them as persistent offenders, but understood that they were seriously mentally ill, so were reluctant to put them in jail. In jail, these typically poorly physically conditioned people were victimized horribly by true criminals. The judges were powerless to commit these individuals to mental institutions for any length of time, as the admitting psychiatrists would judge them not to be “an imminent threat to their own safety or that of others”. Back on the street they went in 24 hours. One night one of these “repeat customers” of ours, a fifty-ish female of slight build, knocked a man down, sat astride his chest, and cut his heart out with a steak knife. Sometimes three of four of us would have to “pile up” on one of these offenders to get him into custody without having to kill him. Harmless? Hardly.
A large percentage of these street people are armed, with usually crude weapons such as knives, screwdrivers, straight razors, or improvised weapons. They are often very territorial about “their home”, which may be a cozy spot behind your office’s dumpster. They also tend to be very touchy about personal space, and inadvertently getting too close to one may be interpreted as the worst sort of aggressive attack against him, resulting in a furious assault against the “intruder” (you!).
Aside from the obvious “bum” be on the look-out for behavior such as a shuffling, uncoordinated gait; a vacant, “thousand-yard stare”; incoherent mumbling; talking to himself or unseen associates; and other bizarre behavior. (Bear in mind, he may just be a Democrat.)
With anyone you suspect to be mentally disturbed, try these tips to avoid or de-escalate a contact:
1. Remember his personal space, and don’t invade it.
2. Do not try to touch him, unless you are prepared to fight him.
3. Do not make sudden, rapid, or startling movements.
4. Speak quietly and slowly. Do not shout.
5. Try to increase distance, and get an obstacle (parked car, fence, etc.) between you, as if he is armed it is probably with an edged weapon.
PLAIN OLD CRIMINALS-
Criminals must go through certain specific stages of activity before they can assault/rob/abduct/rape/etc. These stages will differ slightly in different types of crimes, but will generally fall into these categories.
1. SELECTION- The criminal views you as a prospective victim. He looks at your “victim potential”, on two separate bases. First, do you have the type of car he wants, are you wearing expensive watches and jewelry, have you flashed a roll of cash, do you fit his rape victim profile? We think of this as, “Do you have what I want?”. If the answer is, “Yes.”, he moves to the next question.
Then he evaluates you as a threat to him. First and foremost, are you paying attention to your surroundings? Are you aware of his presence? Do you look like you might be a physical problem? Do you look like you might be armed? I assure you he goes through these questions. We think of this as, “Can I get what I want from you, safely?”.
If the answer to either question, “Do you have what I want, and can I get it from you, safely?” , is “NO”, then off he goes, in search of easier prey. Thugs are not looking for a fight. What they’re looking for is the easy mark. Someone they can get to, get what they want from, and get away from, without being hurt and without being caught.
Several years ago, a fascinating study was conducted by some psychology students. They took photos of ordinary people as they came and went from a downtown business area. They then planned to show these to criminals and ask them to identify the people they would choose as victims, and identify the people they would choose to bypass. In the preliminary write-up, they said that they expected to see a 10-15% correlation among the “victim” and “non-victim” groups.
They then went to a state prison and got a very large number of career violent offenders (rapists, muggers, etc.) to enter a room one at a time and view these photos. Time after time, the thugs said “I want that one”, and pointed to others and said, “But I don’t want that one!”. When it was over, the psychologists were shocked. There was a 95% correlation rate! Ninety-five times out of a hundred, individual thugs, with no communication among them, picked the same people to be victims, or to bypass. How did they do that? Body language. The only thing available from these photos was body language, but that was enough for the thugs to instantly identify the true victims as well as the people they would not risk a confrontation with.
Whom did they choose as victims? Gender, size, and age were surprisingly not the keys. Instead, they looked for people who shuffled along, head down, avoiding eye contact, unaware of their surroundings (Condition White). In contrast, they avoided choosing people, even small females, if they were alert, confident, head up, and looked like they knew what was going on around them (Condition Yellow). Remember what he really wants. He wants to get to you, get what he wants from you, and get away from you, without being hurt or caught.
There are signs that you are being evaluated by a potential attacker. They include:
1. Anyone who appears to be watching you should be viewed with mild alarm. If every time you look up, the same guy is looking at you, ask yourself, “Why?”.
2. Anyone who is inactive until you approach, then tries to look busy;
3. Anyone whose activity is geared to yours. You speed up, he speeds up, etc.
Once a criminal selects a victim, he must move into a position from which an attack is possible. Always remember that to assault, rob, or rape you, he must be close enough to talk to you. He will attempt to maneuver into this position by stealth (which is defeated by being alert), or by ruse. He may ask you for the time, for change, for directions, anything to distract you and preferably cause you to look away from him. When you look away, here comes the blow! The best course of action is to politely refuse any request, no matter what it is. Keep your eye on him and say, “No”. Anything you agree to is the springboard for the next request, which then escalates to demands. Just say “No”.
Positioning prior to the assault is vital to him, as he relies almost totally on surprise for success. If you avoid his attempts to properly position himself, you forestall the attack. Be alert and watchful for these cues:
1. Anyone who falls in behind you after you walk by;
2. Two or more people who are together, but split up as you approach;
3. Anyone staying in one place, observing, but begins to move toward you;
4. Two or more people lined up along a wall or fence; or
5. Anyone who moves to block an exit after you enter a confined space.
If you see one of these cues, cross the street, change directions, turn a corner. If he alters his course to match yours, he has tipped his hand. Go to Orange and start planning an escape or response.
3. THE ATTACK-
The attack phase can only come after the evaluation phase and the positioning phase. It is simply not possible to attack you until these first two stages have been completed. The very best defense, therefore, is to circumvent the attack by not allowing the Evaluation Phase and the Positioning Phase to be fruitfully completed. Every single attack you avoid is a battle won! In every attack you fail to prevent, you are at enormous risk! A one-eyed, three fingered jackass can miss you by ten feet with a handgun, and ricochet a round off the pavement and into your femoral artery. Although you are “acidentally” dead, you’re still dead. Be alert and use your head and you won’t have to use your pistol nearly as often.
BEHAVIORAL CUES TO IMPENDING AGGRESSION-
With the exception of the true sociopath , there will normally be cues, principally body language, which will assist you in forecasting aggressive activity by an individual you are observing. Being aware of these cues is vital to your accurate threat assessment.
Of course, verbalization by the offender is a critical cue. Someone cursing, shouting epithets, and generally being aggressive verbally is a likely candidate for physical aggression. Bear in mind, however, that 80% of human communication is non-verbal, and you must be aware of and watchful for these sometimes subtle indicators.
One of the most reliable indicators of an impending assault occurs when you are in a position of authority and the offender fails to comply with or contemptuously ignores your commands. If, for instance, you encounter an intruder in your home, and he does not immediately comply with your commands, you are in for a fight!
Other definitive indicators can include these, alone or in combination:
1. hands on hips;
2. cocked head
3. arms folded across the chest
4. fists clenched, or clenched and flexed alternately
5. jaw clenched
7. deliberate avoidance of eye contact
8. continuously looking around
9. sustained verbal rationalizations
10. continuous yawning and stretching
11. target glancing.
“Target glancing” refers to brief, repeated shifting of the offender’s eyes to your chin, your nose, or your weapon. Repeated target glances to your chin or nose means he is gauging the distance for a punch. Target glances at your weapon indicate a gun snatch may be imminent.
Always, when the pre-attack indicators are present, shift to the highest level of mental readiness (Condition Red) and be geared up. If at all possible, extend the distance between the two of you. Unless you are a Marine, you don’t have to die for the piece of ground you’re standing on!
Training for the real world.