Stay Alert Stay Alive

This is a guest post by Scott Sylvester

stay alert stay alive
Stay Alert Stay Alive

When we deploy with our Special Response Team, prior to creating a breach point or a dynamic entry, they deploy (usually several) distraction devices to cover the movements, and to confuse the direction of the intrusion. A distracted opponent makes it easy to gain the initiative by exploiting their divided attention. While a flashbang device is loud, bright and can be disorienting it is not fatal, however, there is another distraction device almost every American deploys every day that is far more dangerous and deadly to you. It divides your attention, distracts you and allows those with evil intentions to get close enough to victimize you: Cell phone

I recently had the privilege of sitting in on a debrief of a SWAT and Negotiator call out conducted by the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. During this particular incident the young woman who was victimized was returning from the grocery store. She lived alone in an upstairs apartment with a narrow staircase that led to a small landing. The front door faced the parking lot where her car was parked. The young woman was talking on her cell phone as she unloaded her bags of groceries. Carrying the bags upstairs while conversing with her sister on the phone she was totally unaware that a sex offender was walking nearby and took notice.

The suspect was completely unrelated to the victim and had a history of assault and sex charges. He, like many criminals saw the lovely young lady and due to his mental disorder and sick propensities he saw an opportunity to gratify himself. He watched as she parked, continued talking and then proceeded to further divide her attention by unloading. By the time the young lady reached the landing, opened the front door and carried in her groceries, he had closed the distance, walked (almost directly behind her) up the same narrow stairs and walked directly into her apartment closing the door behind her, trapping her alone inside.

Now think about your daily routine and how frequently you carry, use and look at your cell phone. I have a few friends who might as well have it surgically implanted in their hand since it is never more than a few inches away and always on. Every time it blinks, rings, or pings they can instantaneously draw it form their pocket, clip or case and be reading the latest Facebook update faster than you could ever draw your concealed weapon. Just imagine how good you would be if you could get your gun out as fast as you could get your phone out.

When you are walking down the street or sitting on a subway are you looking at the people around you and staying aware or have you completely zoned out and tuned out everything around you? When you are jogging or working out and have your headphones in, have you completely shut out one of your 5 senses? Hearing is vital to your survival and neuroscience shows us you will react faster to stimuli you hear versus one you see.

Now ask yourself, what information on that device is so critical to know that you would shut down your Sympathetic Nervous System responses necessary to your survival? Humans are not good at multi-tasking so anything that divides your focus is going to have a negative impact on your awareness.

Why would you tune out the mannerisms, movements and threat indicators just to look at a picture of your friend’s latest meal? Is viewing a picture of a cheeseburger worth getting beat up and robbed over? One of our patrol divisions monitors the bus service in the county and I remember seeing a video from one of the forward facing cameras where a bus was making a right turn and a guy walking down the street looking at his cell phone (with headphones in) stepped right off the curb and walked directly in front of the bus. While he survived, it was a perfect example of his distraction device working perfectly… costing him awareness, common sense and a severe injury.

Fortunately for the young lady in the incident above, when the suspect shut the door she started screaming. Her sister on the other end of the phone felt something was wrong, listened to her intuition and contacted the LVMPD, provided the address where the victim lived and ultimately saved her sister’s life. While the young lady survived, the distraction device that allowed the assault to take place still extracted a price. While the SWAT team responded and negotiators made contact and ultimately shot the suspect (who lived) and surrendered, he had several hours barricaded in the apartment, alone with her. She was sexually assaulted and battered and ultimately will be scarred for life physically and emotionally.

While I cannot say that the reason this incident occurred was due to the cell phone distraction, I can say with 100% certainty that it played a major role in her ability to perceive and react to the environment around her and was also a cue the suspect picked up on and an opportunity he took advantage of.

While I’m harping on the cell phone there are many things around us daily that divert our attention away from our personal safety. Be it a tablet, music device, phone or computer, make sure you stay aware of who is moving around you. While I understand the need to stay in contact, respond to emails and post pictures of your food, make sure that every other sentence you glance around.

Stay aware, stay safe and don’t get distracted. Your safety depends on it.

Scott S
One Weapon, Any Tool
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