An excerpt from Come Back Alive
The first major lesson in surviving crime is to expect it. Not just in bad neighborhoods or late at night but anytime, anywhere. In the pinball-like confluence of criminals and victims the chances are good that you won’t run into criminals today, but with enough time and travel you will. In general, you can safely assume that there is crime in bad neighborhoods when the bars close on Friday nights, and there is also crime at nine in the morning in nice neighborhoods, specifically because that is when people don’t expect it to happen.
On the heels of expecting crime to happen follows the next advice. Don’t act like a victim. Criminals cue in on folks who carry themselves like they’re frightened of the world. Body language is everything. Darting eyes, head cast low, a meek posture and stride—all these suggest to some guy lurking in the shadows that you’re an easy mark. Instead, walk confidently and purposefully.
Elmer had it right. Many crimes require a willing victim. Someone who stops to help someone, give directions, or tell the time is someone who entered into an evil appointment with all the best intentions. When they see a cheap pistol pointing at them, they can’t believe the nice man is, in fact, a thug. When it comes to attacks on women, almost 90 percent begin with some type of ruse to gain the victim’s trust.
Despite spending thousands of dollars on security devices to make homes burglarproof, many people still open their doors when the bell rings. Go figure. A simple intercom is ideal in most cases, but it also provides access to impersonators who then rob your home. A coded access is ideal, since only people who have your code can dial in. Most homes are cased before they are robbed, so be suspicious of people who cruise by looking too intensely or too many times. And don’t leave your garage door open: You’re providing an inventory of goods for a lazy thief.
Put a block on windows and doors so they can’t slide open to allow access. Plant plenty of nasty bushes around your house. You can use lots of lighting, but if nobody’s watching it won’t help, so install motion detectors at the sides and back of your home.
When you sell something in a classified ad, arrange to meet the person at your office or next door. What better way to have something stolen than inviting a “buyer” into your home to show him how it works?
Make sure you lock your car doors, keep everything inside hidden from sight, and have enough insurance. If a thief wants your car, he’ll get it. You can install an alarm, have a safety trip, use a steering wheel lock, and even in- stall a tracking device, but chances are he’ll know more about those devices than you do and how to disable them quickly, or he’ll resort to carjacking. (If you really want a surefire anti-theft system, install a homemade direct dis- connect system to the battery.)
Carjacking is popular due to the success of anti-theft devices. When I was driving through Johannesburg (the carjacking capital of the world) with the Flying Squad, they explained that there’s no reason for a thief to smash up a nice car, jimmy the ignition, and then scream down the street with the alarm wailing when he can invite you to hand him your car and convince you to throw in your wallet for some spending money too.
Carjacking is a very organized and predictable crime. Syndicates put in orders for certain cars, either for parts or resale. Typically, the most popular cars are not the flashy ones but models that have been top sellers for the last three to five years. They are in high demand for parts and repairs.
Once a carjacker has an order for a specific model, he will typically wait where traffic slows down to make a turn or at a stoplight. When the traffic light changes to green, he can make his getaway.
The most popular method is to bump the car to feign a minor traffic accident. Carjackers want you to get out and leave the keys in the ignition. They’ll also watch to see if you pocket them. After you rudely inquire where they learned how to drive, they will knock you down, grab the keys, and make off with your nice car. They will often carry a gun to intimidate you, and will use it if you take too long explaining that the car belongs to you and not them. If there is a baby in the backseat, don’t worry; they’ll toss it out when they’re clear of any chase cars.
How do you survive car crime? Take the bus. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)
Probably the most dangerous and cleverest crime combination is car- jacking plus home invasion. Thieves look for commuters with fancy gold watches and flashy cars heading for nice neighborhoods. They follow you right into your garage, rob you and your house, and drive off with their loot in your car.
Preventing a carjacking may appear to be paranoid behavior, but it can be rather effective. Drive with your windows up and your doors locked. Leave enough space in front of you to avoid being boxed in. As you roll to a stop at a traffic light, adjust the rearview mirror so that it covers your blind spots. Keep your eyes on blind spots on both sides of the vehicle. Stay in the lane closest to the center of the road.
If you think you’re being followed, make two to four right turns in succession. If the guy is still behind you, head for a police or fire station. If you are rear-ended or the person in front of you brakes suddenly, causing you to run into that vehicle, remain in the driver’s seat. If possible, signal with your hands to go to a nearby full-service gas station, or some busy store or parking lot, to exchange license and insurance information. If you need to speak with the other party, crack the window and explain where you want to go to file a report or exchange information. Choose a location with as many people as possible. Keep the engine running. Carjackers normally work in pairs or teams, but don’t assume that if the other car has a single occupant the situation is safe. Install a car phone; many can be programmed to dial 911 with a single button.
ATMs: Thieves don’t like crowds and they don’t like crowded places. A good rule of thumb is to do your business in daylight hours, take out more money at once rather than less money more often—and do it when other people are around. Lots of people. That usually means Friday evenings or lunchtime during business days. The worst time is late at night, stumbling out of a bar to get more beer money. Often the crime occurs after you leave and get in your car. When you leave the ATM, check to see if you are being followed and lock your doors. If you lose your card, report it immediately and be skeptical of callers posing as bank managers or cops who want to verify your PIN. Never reveal your PIN to anyone.
Phone booths: Telephone booths are an ideal place to rob people. Bad guys love ’em, because you can’t run, there’s only a single entrance, and no one can hear you scream. Often, you’ve pulled out your wallet or purse to get your change, revealing precisely where you keep it. The deterrent is to use open, wall-attached public phone booths or busy phone banks in well-lit places. Popping in to a telephone booth to make a call is also an ideal way to have your car ripped off. Many people jump out of their cars to make a quick call, and leave their engine running.
Elevators: Elevators make an even better venue than telephone booths to get jacked up in if the thief is looking for uncompromised discretion and privacy. There’s no way out and, again, there’s no one to hear you shout for help. Most elevator thefts happen on the lower floors, where the thief has readier access to escape routes. A good way to avoid being pickpocketed in an elevator is simply to face others in the elevator with you, away from the door. Sociologically curious, perhaps, but effective.
City streets: The MO for many pickpockets is to distract and grab. Someone spills something on you and tries to brush it off. In some cases they of- fer to hold your purse while you wipe it off. Duh. Hey, do you have change for a twenty? If you do, I’ll figure out where your money is kept. Did you drop a fiver? Maybe you’ll pull out your wallet to check. Purse snatching is not even worth going into. You carry your valuables in a purse, you deserve to lose them. Same goes for gold Rolexes and nice jewelry.
Often beggars put on a half-assed entertainment show and then send kids to shove their grubby little hands into your pockets. While they are en- treating you to donate to the cause of the impoverished, the smart ones are lifting your possessions. Don’t bother chasing the laughing one, because he’s already passed it off to the cherubic but snot-nosed little girl. Oh, and if they hand you a baby, you’re probably being jacked up. As the kid runs off with your weekly pay packet, you’re wondering if babies bounce when they’re dropped. You quickly pat your money belt to make sure your cash is still there. That’s okay, chump, they expected that and Pops is waiting to lift it at knifepoint around the corner.
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