In the past we have discussed the importance of pre-incident indicators with regard to detecting surveillance and other activities.  It’s also important to recognize when an incident such as an assault, robbery or other violent crime may be about to unfold.   Even crimes with a short or compressed operational cycle give off some pre-incident signs.

What constitutes suspicious behavior?  To determine that you need to have at least a basic understanding about what is “normal” in your environment (although arguably some types of behavior would be deemed suspicious in almost any setting).  With this foundation you can more readily determine if someone’s behavior in incongruous with the location.  People on the verge of committing a criminal act will invariably nervous – nervous about being caught, nervous about being hurt, etc.  Some may be able to hide this better than others but invariably there will be some leakage.  Most people know what behavior is normal browsing in a shop, sitting in a restaurant, riding in a subway car, etc. and this is even more true the more familiar with the environment you are.  Therefore your attention should key on people whose behavior is abnormal or incongruous with their environment.  This doesn’t mean people exhibiting “abnormal behavior” are automatically a threat but they are certainly worthy of your attention.

Beyond exhibiting abnormal behavior there are some specific actions that may indicate an attack is imminent.  Some have been mentioned before but are certainly worth mentioning again:

  • Signaling between people – in particular people who otherwise appear disconnected.  This signaling may be as subtle as a nod or gesture but often marks the “target verification stage”.  Target verification is the point where the assailants determine you are the correct target in a pre-planned attack or kidnapping or that you are a suitable or attractive target in a more opportunistic crime.
  • Correlation of movement – as with surveillance detection, persons that appear to be moving when you move, perhaps in parallel to you or perhaps perpendicular to cross your path.
  • Movement to interrupt your path – building on the bullet above, persons move toward you so that they will interrupt your path of movement.  This is often done on a diagonal such as someone crossing the street in a diagonal path towards you.
  • Focusing on you intently or inappropriately  – people (and in particular people who previously appeared to be disconnected) suddenly focusing on you intently or appearing to take an interest in you in a way that’s inappropriate given the circumstances.
  • Concealing hands/awkward movement – when hands are concealed in pockets or under clothing they may be concealing a weapon.  Also an arm held tight against one side of the body may be to secure a firearm in the waistband.  Likewise an awkward or unnatural gait may indicate a concealed weapon under clothing.
  • Pressing forearm against side – in line with the bullet above this may be a covert check to ensure that weapon, most likely a firearm, is in place.
  • Nervous glances/looking over their shoulder – this is often a last minute check by assailants to ensure exit routes are clear and that no third parties such as police are in the area and may interfere.  This type of movement often immediately precedes an attack.

You can only recognize these activities if you are paying attention so awareness is essential.  We have discussed previously times to heighten your awareness and that obviously applies here.  You should also watch for these behaviors in conjunction with each other or occurring in a group.  One by itself may not indicate a threat but if you notice several it may be a signal to prepare yourself for flight or fight.

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