Lately news stories from across the Southeast have been inundated with headlines of missing persons, kidnappings and murders.
In the last month in Alabama alone, 3-year-old Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney was kidnapped and murdered; 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard was kidnapped and authorities have been searching for her for the last four weeks; and the 20-year-old son of an Alabama district attorney, Sloan Harmon, was gunned down.
These tragedies have everyone questioning if it’s safe to be in public, but law enforcement has tips to help prevent bad things from happening.
“When talking in light of the events of people coming up missing, personal safety is a huge issue,” Alexander City Police Department Capt. James Orr said. “The events do highlight we always need to be vigilant but you can still go out.”
Orr said the common-sense tips have been preached to citizens before.
“If you are going out of your home, it is best to have someone with you,” he said. “Use the buddy system. There is safety in numbers.”
Orr said the odds of something happening in public are reduced by 70% if you go with a friend.
Orr advises leaving no room for opportunity for potential perpetrators.
“The offender has the desire and ability to commit a crime,” Orr said. “ We want to take the opportunity away.”
Orr said a perpetrator looks at body positioning.
“You want to make good eye contact with everyone,” Orr said. “Don’t walk with your head down like you’re cowering. Walk with confidence.”
There are other opportunities to take away to help keep everyone safe.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” Orr said. “When you get to a parking lot, take a look around; don’t park near a suspicious vehicle; and look around before you get out of your car.”
When out with friends and family be careful what you discuss.
“Offenders could be listening and might be able to gather information about where you live and what might be in the home,” Orr said. “When out, only take what you need. Only take a credit card or just the cash you need to make your purchase.”
Everyone has cell phones. Orr said owners should be familiar with how their phones work and have emergency numbers handy.
Communicating with family and friends can go a long way.
“Always let someone know where you are going,” he said. “Also let them know a time you can be expected to return.”
Orr said many attacks can be prevented before they start.
“If you notice a threat, attract attention,” Orr said. “Starting yelling, blow a whistle if you have one. Making noise might scare an offender off because of the added attention.”
Orr said tips for children are simple.
“Make sure they understand stay away from strangers,” Orr said. “They might use a tactic with them saying a parent’s name or use an animal to lure them in. Figure out a safe word to use or teach your child to only accept rides from family.”
If people find themselves in a situation needing to protect themselves, Orr said they have to make a decision to fight or try to run.
“You have to make the best choice for the moment,” Orr said. “It might be easier to run into the store. If you choose to fight, you have to put all your effort into it. You need to use the tools you have at hand. It could be keys coming from between your fingers; It could be using your purse like a bat.”
Orr said some will choose a firearm or knife as protection.
“It is a personal choice on other weapons,” he said. “If you choose to carry one, you need to be familiar with it, be proficient with it.”
In the case of Blanchard, a witness came forward days later saying he or she noticed Blanchard being forced into a vehicle. Orr said don’t be that witness.
“If you see something or hear something, report it,” Orr said. “If it is not reported, law enforcement cannot look into it.”
Orr said while there are many things you can do, the simple ones work. But they don’t work if people get too comfortable.
“Always think about safety,” Orr said. “You have to take away opportunities. We all walk around thinking, ‘Nothing will happen to me,’ but it can.”