If opportunity doesn't knock, criminals won't be able to answer, police say

May 08, 1994|By Gregory P. Kane | Gregory P. Kane,Sun Staff Writer

On April 28, a 41-year-old Severna Park woman pushing a baby in a stroller on the Baltimore-Annapolis bike trail was PTC grabbed from behind by a man who threatened to hurt the child if she screamed.

The woman fought the man until she could break free with the child. A passing bicyclist stopped to help the woman, who sustained minor scratches in the ordeal. The child was not harmed.

On Aug. 12, 1993, a 14-year-old girl saw a man lying at the bottom of a hill near a stream along the same bike path and went to help him. When he grabbed her, she kicked and screamed, broke free and escaped to a nearby house.

Both victims presented opportunities for their assailants.

Taking away those opportunities and others helps prevent crime, said Lt. Larry Hartman, commander of the Anne Arundel County Police Department's community relations division.

With 15-plus years of crime prevention experience behind him, Lieutenant Hartman knows more than the average citizen about how to avoid being victimized.

"They say if you want to prevent crime, you have to cripple crime's triangle," said the lieutenant, a 25-year veteran of the force. The three bases of the crime triangle, according to the police, are desire, ability and opportunity.

Since people can have little effect on a criminal's desire or ability to commit a crime, "the simplest way [to prevent crime] is to reduce criminal opportunity," said Lieutenant Hartman.

Warmer weather presents greater opportunities for criminals because people are out and may leave their car windows down.

Lieutenant Hartman offers these tips -- taken from an official department handout -- for citizens who want to reduce their risk of becoming victims:

* Don't resist if an attacker only wants property or has a weapon.

"Property can be replaced," he said. "If it's a matter of giving up your property, why sacrifice your life?" But he added that each person has to weigh their options, especially if they feel their life is threatened.

"You may want to offer resistance if someone says 'Get into the car.' You don't know how far that's going to go."

* If you do decide to resist, don't get scared, get mad! Shout "No!", "Stop!" or "Call the police!" loudly and forcefully. Try to incapacitate or distract your assailant long enough so you can escape. A jab to the throat or eyes, or a swift kick to the knees may give you a few minutes to get away or attract help.

* Wherever you are, stay alert. Don't daydream.

"You should always be security-conscious," said Lieutenant Hartman. "Know where you are, what vehicles are around you, etc."

* Stick to well-lighted, busy streets. Stay on the part of the sidewalk farthest from shrubs, dark doorways, and alleys where people can hide.

"If there's a lot of people around, [the criminal] increases his risk of getting caught," Lieutenant Hartman said.

* People who walk at night should vary their routes.

* Walk with a companion, whenever possible.

"The old adage, 'there's safety in numbers,' is still true today," said Lieutenant Hartman.

* Keep cars locked and check the back seat and floor before getting in.

"Did you leave your car in a well-lit area? Did you check your back seat? Is there something under the car?" Those are questions people should ask themselves when they return to their vehicles.

"It's been documented that someone can hide under the car and grab your leg," Lieutenant Hartman said.

* If your car runs out of gas or breaks down, raise the hood and tie a white cloth to the door handle to alert passing police cars. Get back in the car and keep the doors and windows locked until the police come. If someone stops, ask him or her to phone for help.

On Thursday, a man stopped to help two men who claimed their car had broken down. The men robbed him. Lieutenant Hartman said the safest thing to do when people see motorists with a disabled vehicle is to call the police.

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