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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 17 2013

Good sense, planning go a long way to ensuring personal safety

FARGO – Your best weapon is your mind – sharpened with a good dose of common sense – if you want to avoid being the victim of a theft or assault, experts in the public and private sector say.

“At the end of the day, just make yourself a hard enough target to force the criminal to move on,” said Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel.

“My personal thing is everyone wants to be ready after something happens. You want to be ready before,” said Ensley “Tak” Windham, an executive protection agent and a weapons and tactics instructor.

“It doesn’t make you paranoid to be prepared,” Windham said.

The pair offered a list of do’s and don’ts to deny thieves and avoid being a victim.

E Lock the doors of your home, garage and vehicles.

Almost 90 percent of the burglaries in Fargo take place where doors to garages and homes are left unlocked, Vettel said.

The same thing goes for thefts from vehicles.

“Kids call it car-hopping. They go from door to door to door,” Vettel said.

Keep expensive items out of sight in cars and leave a light or two on in the house, Vettel said.

E It also doesn’t hurt for people to lock doors while they are at home and to have an alarm system armed, Windham said.

Varying your routes to and from work breaks up routines that can be tracked, he said.

And if you’re a single female, buy a dog if you can afford it, he said.

E Plan and practice how to defend yourself, and avoid bad situations.

That means not only planning what you can do if you are attacked, but “not putting yourself into a situation where you have to protect yourself,” Vettel said.

“Most of that is common sense. You don’t want to be staring at that bad guy in the back alley because you shouldn’t be in that back alley in the first place,” Vettel said.

“Recognize when things don’t feel right, and take a step back and say, ‘How can I make this situation safe,’ ” he said.

E Get to know people before giving lots of trust.

Windham offers the example of a woman who falls for a guy online.

In short order, “the guy may say, ‘Let’s go to Italy.’ Just because he’s good-looking doesn’t mean he’s nice,” Windham said.

“If you’re a young lady, do a background check on someone you want to date. Take a friend with you,” he said.

Even a late-night shopping trip can be trouble.

“A lot of people go to Wal-Mart at 3 o’clock in the morning, and they say it’s because it’s not busy. But 3 o’clock in the morning is when the freaks are out,” Windham said.

E It’s also important to look at the whole situation.

There’s an acronym Windham picked up in the military: JDLR.

“Just Doesn’t Look Right. If it’s 110 degrees out and a guy has a hoodie and sunglasses. JDLR,” he said.

E If you elect to carry any kind of weapon, know how to use it and practice with it. Plan how you will react in a dangerous situation, and know what you are willing to do to protect yourself.

Whether you want to carry pepper spray, a stun gun, Taser or a handgun, Vettel said you have to choose a weapon that’s realistic for you and where you live and work.

Instead, Vettel regularly sees people buy a weapon, and when confronted, not know how to use it. They then fail to protect themselves.

For example, pepper spray is an aerosol that loses the ability to spray over time. It can also be taken by the wind. For women, it’s often stuck in the bottom of a purse, making it useless in a fast-moving situation.

“You’re better off using the purse,” Vettel said.

“Stun guns don’t work on everybody. You (also) have to be within arm distance,” Windham said.

“As far as guns go, take a class. You have to know the effects,” he said. “You have to know the consequences. It will cost you a minimum of $30,000 to defend yourself” if accused of wrongfully firing a weapon.

E Too much (online) information.

“Hey, I’m going to Hawaii for two weeks,” is a typical post on a site like Facebook, Wyndham said, letting people know you’ll be away from home.

A better approach is to “post the pictures of yourself on vacation, two weeks after you get back,” he said.

“There’s just too much information that people just don’t need to know,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583