Friday, August 10, 2018

Thugs with Pepper Spray--A Growing Carjacking Tactic?


16 June 2018: Prosecutors have charged Curtis Alford and Jana Stowers with 10 felonies after Alford used pepper spray on two women to steal a pickup truck in downtown St. Louis. Witnesses said that Alford then intentionally struck two people as he sped away, one of whom has died. Police said Alford and Stowers admitted to planning a robbery in order to steal the truck. 

Some research on the incident above and similar incidents shows that using pepper spray is perhaps becoming a favorite technique for would-be carjackers. The tactic typically involves approaching a victim in a parking lot and asking for money or directions to distract the victim as the carjacker gets closer and to then pepper spray the victim, grab the keys (if the victim is not in the car), or to yank the victim out of the car and drive away.

One of my students forwarded me a summary of a recent incident in San Antonio, Tx. That seems to fit this model. A gentleman and his daughter were waiting in a Wal-Mart parking lot at approximately 7:30 pm when a late model white SUV parked in the row across from the gentleman. Even though it was a typical sweltering early evening in San Antonio, the SUV had all the windows opened and at least 3 adult males inside. After about 10 minutes, one of the individuals from the SUV exited the rear door and walk over to the gentleman’s vehicle.

The gentleman waived him off immediately but the SUV occupant started knocking on the driver side window. The gentleman stated that he wasn’t going to open the door; however, the SUV occupant continued knocking and asked the gentleman to “just crack open your window.” Once the SUV occupant realized that the gentleman wasn’t going to open the window, he asked for directions, and then returned to the SUV. The driver of the SUV then quickly exited the parking lot. Once the SUV departed, the gentleman’s daughter in the back seat behind him said “daddy, he was trying to open my door when he was knocking.”

It’s impossible to say what the SUV occupant intended; however, someone legitimately seeking directions is not going to try and open your car door. The gentleman in this instance did the correct thing because he had the doors locked and did not open his window.

This was not the case with a woman who was sitting in her car with the door open on 6 February 2018 in Gainesville, Fl. Naytrellis Enoch came up to the victim, pepper sprayed her in the face, and then grabbed her by the ankles and tried to pull her out of the car. When he could not get her out of the car, Enoch tried to take the keys from the ignition and steal the woman's cellphone, which she was holding—he failed at both attempts and then ran away. Police caught him a short time later.

So how do you prevent these attempts? You are extremely vulnerable sitting in a stationary vehicle with the motor off and windows down. People can approach in the vehicle’s blind spots and be on you before you can react. If you must wait in a car, do so with the car backed into the parking spot, engine running, and windows up. I know this “wastes” gas; however, it is certainly better than choking with a face full of pepper spray while a thug drives away in your car with your kid in the back seat.

Another is simple awareness. Avoid task fixation in public. Don’t allow yourself to become so focused on the task you are performing that you exclude everything else happening around you. Cell phone conversations come to mind; however, head down hunting for your keys in a purse, talking to someone with you, etc. The earlier you notice a potential problem, the more time you have to develop a solution.

A would-be carjacker will approach you under the guise of normalcy, i.e., needing information, some small item, or in a recent case in Georgia asking for money. While the carjacker is talking, he getting in position to attack, evaluating your awareness about what he is doing, and estimating your commitment to defending yourself. Do not let unknown persons approach you without a clearly legitimate reason to do so (e.g. someone passing you in a parking lot who is obviously going to their car).

You should always be careful when an unknown person approaches you and asks for something. This may be a distraction. Your answer should always be "no" and insist that he keep his distance. If an unknown person approaches, ask politely but firmly for them to stop. A phrase such as “Hey sir, please hold right there for a minute” allows them to comply with your request and you have not been rude. If they stop, you can ask them what they want.

If they don’t stop and keep approaching, then you can increase the severity of your request to that of a command and insist that they stop. DON’T COME ANY CLOSER! If they continue to come toward you, then you must act to maintain the distance. Moving laterally, putting barriers between you and the individual, and ideally moving toward other people.

Even bad guys using firearms generally want to be as furtive as possible because they don’t want to get caught. Someone following you around the parking lot pointing a gun at you is going to be much more obvious to any passer-by or police officer cruising the area.

This applies to someone approaching while you are getting into your car. If you are already partially in the vehicle, get in an lock the doors—even if you must leave a bag or other item outside the car. If you are not in the car, don’t stand there and watch him approach, control the distance by moving away from him (see above).

Carjackers frequently work with partners. A vehicle driving up and stopping in front of you is an immediate cause for alarm. This is especially true, if a car stops in front of you and someone jumps out as you are getting into your car. They guy jumping out may intend to carjack you while the other speeds away.

If you are already in your car when someone approaches, stop what you are doing and start the car if it not already running. You might also want to put the car in gear. If it turns out that something is amiss, you can drive out of danger. If the person tells you something is wrong with your car do not get out and look. Thank them, tell them you will look into it, and drive away.

As in the San Antonio incident above, be especially aware of someone who has approached and is grabbing your car door handle. Actions such as knocking at your window are often used as a cover for this. If you see a criminal trying to work your door handle, immediately put your car in gear and drive away. Remember, there is no legitimate reason for a stranger to do this.

If you are with your family or children, you must discuss and rehearse a plan of action before you face the situation. Think through the potential scenarios you might face given your particular circumstances, then plan, and rehearse  accordingly.

Why go to all this trouble? The reason is simple, there are thousands of people around who are likely to be easier and safer targets. When you make it hard for the criminal to victimize you, he is more likely to go find less aware victims elsewhere.

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