Some cities feel dangerous. If you have ever been to Kinshasa or Lagos, Peshawar or Karachi you know what I mean. Abject poverty, streets packed with teeming masses eyeing you, the wealthy foreigner, hungrily. Many other cities don’t feel that dangerous but are. Johannesburg, with its skyscrapers boasts a high violent crime rate and at one time held a record for sexual assaults. Its very easy to be lulled into complacency on the streets of Bogota with its crowds of smartly dressed business people and trendy restaurants and bars and easy to forget that this is the capital of a country that was until recently one of the leading countries for kidnapping in the world and a place that still has a healthy – or unhealthy – rate of street crime.
While the level of crime in Bogota and Johannesburg has improved both are still locations with real security concerns. Other cities like Buenos Aires can lull the visitor by making them feel like they are in Europe yet taxi crimes and express kidnappings occur fairly regularly. Sometimes the inherent feel we get in a particular city can be deceptive and misleading.
Noted personal security author and executive protection firm owner Gavin DeBecker has written much about the value of intuition (most notably in his book the Gift of Fear) in detecting dangerous situations and recognizing when a threat is present even when we can’t quite articulate it. DeBecker is spot on when he notes our ability to subconsciously detect warning signs in our environment and the importance of heeding these warnings. Unfortunately the converse is often not true. It can be very easy to fall into complacency – especially in what feels like a “familiar” environment or an environment we are conditioned to feel is low threat. If you are in an environment that is very alien to what you are used to you are likely to feel the threat more palpably. You are less likely to roam freely around the area. You will be more inclined to practice good security measures and limit your exposure. In such an environment there may also be less enticement to go out on the economy.
In some of the cities we mentioned above you may feel very at ease. The location and the people may seem more familiar to you. There may be more to do. More opportunity to move around independently and also more exposure. This exposure may in fact be exacerbated by you dropping your guard. In the more austere and threatening location you are sometimes actually less exposed since you are more cognizant of the threat and not spending time on the local economy. Therefore sometimes your vulnerability is greater in these cities that are more modern looking and more familiar. You are probably more likely to be walking around, going to restaurants and doing other activities that put you in much closer proximity to the local criminal element.
The best way to deal with this is to know the security situation in the location where you are going, the type of crimes that occur there and plan accordingly. You can still go out on the economy in these locations by practicing good situational awareness, avoiding potentially dangerous locations and situations and continually reminding yourself that the threat is present. This will help you combat the complacency that can leave you vulnerable.