Be aware of your surroundings — that was the primary message from two security professionals at a safety presentation to residents of a large apartment building in the Miracle Mile area.
It all started when one resident decided enough was enough. After 28 package and mail thefts from his apartment building lobby in just six months, including a break-in at the leasing office, Roque Wicker, a professional security consultant, asked the management company at 5600 Wilshire Blvd if it would help him catch the thieves.
“I said, let’s start by posting the pictures from the close circuit TV cameras showing the thieves entering the building, so residents will know what they look like.” said Wicker. The management company agreed, which was great, said Wicker, because not every company would be willing to do that. “Then, ‘let’s conduct a safety seminar to educate my neighbors,’ thinking, ‘together we could catch these guys,'” he added.
In the intervening time, Wicker and several residents, with the help of building’s security firm, Platinum Security, helped catch the thieves. Two suspects charged with the burglaries in the building are appearing in court on today.
“We were lucky, it happened so fast,” said Wicker, whose account of the incident was published in the Buzz last week. Even though the thieves have been caught, Wicker decided they should still conduct the seminar so residents can learn from the incident.
On Wednesday evening, residents gathered in the building’s community room to listen to a presentation on what they can do to be safe and make their apartments more secure. The session was conducted by Wicker, a member of the Mid West Community Council and Co-Founder & COO of C-T Watch, Inc., a counter-terrorism security firm, and his associate Ashour Ebrahim, an intelligence Subject Matter Expert (SME) and former FBI Agent in the Counter-Terrorism Division, who worked in the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Los Angeles.
The security term used throughout the presentation is “situation awareness,” which Ebrahim also described as “life awareness”: having an accurate and realistic understanding of your surroundings. He offered suggestions to residents about having a plan in certain situations, how to their profile and the importance of simply paying attention. It sounds obvious, but he stressed that awareness is the best way to be safer in any situation.
Below are specific suggestions from the safety presentation. The messages were straightforward, based on plain common sense, but when used in the right situation, according to the presenters, could make the difference between walking away from trouble or becoming a victim. The safety tips resonated with residents, several of whom were involved in catching the thieves that preyed on their apartment building over the past six months.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t be distracted by your cell phone. When you are fully aware of what’s going on around, you can assess your risk of danger and often avoid it by crossing the street to avoid someone or driving around if you see someone hanging around the garage entry to your house or apartment.
- Don’t ever open your door to someone you don’t know. Speak through the door if you want to know who’s there or if you think it could be a legitimate visitor, a delivery person, etc.
- Don’t allow “piggybacking”, the practice of letting someone follow you into a locked garage or entry. Be sure to fully close the door behind you. If someone you don’t know asks you to give them access, don’t do it. In this case, it’s ok to be a “bad” neighbor, explained Wicker. In fact, it’s better to a “bad” neighbor by not helping some than by letting the wrong person into the building, which puts everyone at risk. He also recommends driving around if you see a line forming that could make it easy for someone to drive in.
- Look around before you get out of your car. Let your instincts guide you – if you don’t feel safe, don’t leave the car.
- Make eye contact with someone and walk with a sense of purpose. This lets them know you are not afraid and are aware of what’s going on around you. You don’t have to engage in conversation; a short “hey” will suffice.
- When shopping for the holidays, don’t walk around with lots of bags. Take them to your car so you are not loaded down and unable to react if needed.
- If you’ve made a purchase at the Apple store, put it in another shopping bag. Wicker and Ebrahim recommend using Walmart or Target bags instead.
- Sign up and check local news sources like this one and Nextdoor.com so you know what’s happening in your neighborhood. Avoid areas where there’s police activity until it’s clear again.
- Watch out for the accident scam where the bad guys knock on your car window when you are stopped at an intersection and tell you that you’ve rear-ended them. Believe it or not, this scam works if someone has been been texting or checking their email, since they may not be sure. The scammer has already scraped his car so you can see the “damage,” and then they offer to settle it for a $1,000, no questions asked. Sometimes this scam gets even more aggressive. The scammer can actually cause an accident by cutting in front of you and stopping short, causing you to rear-end them…so be sure to pay attention at all times while you are driving.
- If you are walking you dog, vary the time, don’t be predictable. Place your dog between you and the other person and keep your phone handy, but don’t be on it, so you can remain aware of what’s going on around you.
- Sometimes criminals will use dogs to help them fit in. The suspects in the 5600 Wilshire burglaries had a black Chihuahua with them as a cover while they were surveilling the building.
- If you see a door being held open with a rock or some other obstruction, remove it. Contact your apartment building manager or security company.
- If you see something, say something — that’s the best way to help law enforcement and private security firms do their jobs.
- Lock your doors, at home and in your car. Many burglaries are crimes of opportunity…so don’t give thieves the chance.