Former security director targets victim mentality

May 03, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Lawrence P. Messmer believes a person's best weapon against crime is his or her mind, and he's trying to make sure people know how to use theirs if they get caught in dangerous situations.

Mr. Messmer and his wife, Virginia E. Hottle, have opened a branch of the Texas-based company Citizens Against Crime Inc. in The Greenberg Building at 7566 Main St. in Sykesville.

They offer free, one-hour seminars on crime prevention to businesses and other groups in the Baltimore area, and sell items such as tear gas and emergency "call police" signs.

Mr. Messmer, 49, is a former security director for the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and a former narcotics investigator in Florida. His wife, who has experience in real estate, manages the office.

"We need to help police and law enforcement by taking `f responsibility for our own crime prevention, for ourselves and our loved ones," Mr. Messmer says. "Statistically, crime is going to happen to you, but you don't have to become a statistic."

Citizens Against Crime has had a branch in the Baltimore area since 1987.

Mr. Messmer and Ms. Hottle have worked for the company since 1989, when they lived near Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

They returned to the Baltimore area two years ago and worked from an office in Woodlawn until last month.

Mr. Messmer and Ms. Hottle bought a home in Sykesville last year and moved their business there.

Mr. Messmer and Stacey Keith, an employee, visit businesses, schools and other places to give one-hour presentations called, "Living Safely in a Dangerous World," that use role-playing, demonstrations and humor to make their points.

They talk about how to avoid potentially dangerous situations, what to do if you're confronted in a robbery or rape attempt, what to do if you're stranded in your car and how to choose a weapon.

"We do not recommend firearms at all," Mr. Messmer said, because guns often are not readily available when a crime occurs and they can be used against the victim.

A gun is "a false sense of security," he said.

The Citizens Against Crime program teaches prevention techniques.

"We make people laugh. We get them involved. We pull people up and hug 'em, mug 'em and shoot 'em," Mr. Messmer said.

People in the audiences play the roles of crime victims. Mr. Messmer said he often plays the criminal, and uses a starter pistol as a weapon in one scenario.

The average audience size is 22 people, Mr. Messmer said. Most participants are women.

The products he sells cost $5 to $135. They include paperback books titled "Don't Be the Next Victim" and "What Every Woman Needs to Know about Sexual Assault."

About six weeks ago, Mr. Messmer presented two programs to about 60 employees at the Carroll County Health Department.

Director Janet W. Neslen said, "It was very well done. It was humorous, but serious. He does it in role-playing, but in a very nice way."

Jackie Martin, director of marketing for Citizens Against Crime at its Allen, Texas, headquarters, said the program uses humor to make a scary topic palatable. "People don't leave there feeling more afraid," she said.

The company's 48 franchises reach about 15,000 people throughout the United States annually, Ms. Martin said.

Citizens Against Crime was founded in 1980 in Nashville, Tenn., by Jerry Aris, a businessman whose home had been burglarized. The experience gave Mr. Aris the incentive to start a crime-prevention business, Mr. Messmer said.

The company has given presentations to employees at a variety of local businesses, including Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Maryland National Bank and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

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