Group Tactics in Public

20130114-182245.jpgI felt my friend C.’s hand brush against my hip and across the handle of the knife I had clipped there. “Just making sure I could reach it too,” she said. “You see him…at your four o’clock?” I nodded, my eyes tracking him, unsurprised that she’d noticed him too. The newcomer was young, dressed in a dirty jacket and jeans. But it was the way he moved, and the way he stared at everyone female in the restaurant, that had set off my alarm bells.

We were at a a fast food restaurant on the way home from the range after Ladies Night, and had decided to get a drink and a snack. The man C. and I were now watching sat perched on the edge of a table near the door. His body was never still, his eyes scanning in a hungry, desperate way. His movements were jerky and awkward. If I had to guess, he was either mentally ill, high, or up to trouble. Maybe all three.

A moment later, he leapt up and bolted out the door. I thought I saw him stop behind a concrete garbage can just outside the door, but a glare on the window made visibility hard. The third member of our group sipped her coffee, oblivious to the stranger’s actions and to the whispered conversation between C. and I. “Let’s get out of here,” I murmured. C. nodded agreement. “D. in the middle,” she said. “You take rear, since you’re armed and I’m not.” She turned to D. “Let’s get out of here.”

We stood and made our way to the car. The stranger was there, behind the garbage can, and his eyes fixated on us as soon as we got outside. C. and I both made eye contact with him, and something in our expressions made him hesitate. It was all the opening we needed to get past him and to the car. C. watched the man while I unlocked the car and D. and I got in. Once we were inside, I locked the door and we left without incident.

The fact that there wasn’t trouble that night didn’t mean there couldn’t have been. Minutes earlier, we were laughing and giggling and joking around. Might he have looked at us and seen a group of easy prey? Might he have been lost in a world inside his own mind, seeing us as projections of his own internal narrative? Who knows. The odds are, we would have been just fine. But the fact that the chances of trouble are one in a million doesn’t offer much comfort if you’re that one.

What lessons can be learned from our experience? Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Just because you’re in a group doesn’t mean you’re safe. I talked about this a few days ago, but it bears repeating: If the whole group is in Condition White, the fact that the predator has more than one of you to choose from doesn’t make you safe. It makes you a buffet. Situational awareness is every bit as important – if not more so – when you’re in a group.
  • Coordinate your responses. My friend made sure I’d seen the bad guy. She made sure she could reach the knife. We kept our (unarmed) friend between us when we left the restaurant. The two of them kept overwatch while I unlocked the car. The strength of a group comes when all of you can work together to keep yourselves safe.
  • Err on the side of caution. This is generally true, but especially so in a group. It’s harder to coordinate and get a whole group out of a situation and to a place of safety than it is for a single person to flee. For that reason, err on the side of moving away from trouble sooner than you might if you were alone. Had I been by myself, watchful Condition Orange monitoring might have been okay. With three of us, a strategic retreat quickly was the way to go.
  • Discuss emergency responses ahead of time. This is something I didn’t do with my friends, but I should have done. With my daughter, for example, I’ve ingrained the knowledge that the command “RUN!” means right now, no questions, no arguing, just go. Nutmeg knows that if I say “we need to leave NOW”, that’s not the time to ask me why. She also knows that I try to keep myself between her and potential danger if we have to retreat. It would have been useful if both of my friends knew this, too. I wasn’t as worried about C., because I know her level of awareness and training, and I know how she’s likely to respond to trouble. D. is a newer friend, and so far as I know is less experienced tactically, so I didn’t have that same comfort level.
  • Don’t assume danger only comes in the dark. The restaurant was well lit, though not very busy. There were lights in the parking lot. The maybe-predator was trying to conceal himself behind the garbage can, but wasn’t trying especially hard to stay in the shadows. Trouble can find you anywhere, which is why a relaxed state of watchful awareness at all times is so critical.

Perhaps the most important lesson of the day was that absolutely nothing bad actually happened. It’s entirely possible that C. and I could have over-reacted. It’s entirely possible that the guy we were watching wondered what the heck was wrong with us. 99% of the time these things are nothing, but the trouble is that you never know WHICH 99%, and the 1% of the time that isn’t nothing is only clear in hindsight.

How about you? Have you been in a similar situation? How did you react, and what did you learn from it? Was there anything you could have done better? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Photo credit: stock.xchng


  1. Head in the game – head in the game. Each and every day. Good job by all here!!

  2. My wife noted on her way home from a shopping area that there was a certain vehicle that seemed to always be there. She took some odd turns (make 3 left, or 3 right turns), and they followed. She drove to the police station and they promptly left at that point.

    Of course this was in the cell phone free days. Today she would do the same, but call 911 while she was driving (except certain towns here where cell phone use while driving is a big fine), and then drive to the police area, or wherever the dispatcher says.

    I was once in a big city on vacation. I noted what I thought was a person following me, waiting for the right time. I ducked in a door to a McDonalds, and I noted that he went by the door and went around to the other door. I met him, face to face, at that other door. He saw me eye to eye, turned around and left.

    My wife and I, plus our kids, have learned to listed to that instinct, and the hairs on the back of your neck. When they talk, we listen.

    • Trusting your intuition will probably do more to keep you safe than just about anything else. Our intuition may react to the wrong stimulus or in the wrong way, but it never reacts to nothing and it always has our best interests at heart.

      Thanks for this comment, and for sharing your stories!

      • Anja Lowe says:

        You’re quoting “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker (as you well know). This is an excellent book on intuition and how it can save your life if you trust it and listen to it. I highly recommend it as an essential book for each of your readers who are interested in self-defense and preservation.

      • The Gift of Fear is an excellent book, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a must read for anyone concerned about safety, especially women. I’ve given it as gifts to the daughters of friends of mine going off to college or first jobs before.

        Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Absolutely spot on, Tammy. I’m so glad everything went so well, and that your new friend learned something very valuable. If we err on the side of caution and alertness, nothing bad can come of that. If we err on the side of trusting in strangers or lights or crowds, etc… something very bad can – and often does happen. A little “too much” caution seems well worth the effort.

    And yes, I’ve had such experiences myself. The most hair raising was an incident in the next state, late one afternoon. I was coming back from the city and stopped in a little town to get gas. (I never let the tank get below half) As I was pumping the gas, scanning my surroundings as always, I noticed a man coming from behind the mini-mart – which struck me as unusual. He came straight toward me, making eye contact… went to alert status. I looked around, and saw another man coming right toward me from the other direction. Flags going up everywhere then – red alert at that point.

    The first man came up within ten feet and demanded money! I cleared the coat away from the gun and obtained my grip, flipping off the thumb guard. His eyes followed the hand and his expression showed serious shock to see the gun… He actually waved his hands over his head, evidently to warn off the other guy, and they both fled into the gloom in opposite directions.

    I finished pumping my gas, got in the car and locked the doors, then drove home very grateful that – once again – I was NOT a victim. And especially not a HELPLESS victim.

    • What a story – thanks for sharing it! Seeing two seemingly unrelated people moving in concert is always a reason to go to red alert, I think. Too bad those who want to ban guns don’t think about the effect their actions would have in stories like this.

      I can’t get a CCW permit here at present, so I carry other tools (flashlight and knife). But I know those tools are probably less effective as deterrents, and that knife fights are messy affairs. Still, I keep hoping the law here will change – some very promising cases working their way through the courts right now thanks to the SAF and the Calguns Foundation. We’ll see.

      • Indeed! I hope the best for all of you in California.

        The BIG problem with trying to use a knife for primary self defense is the simple fact that the bad guy has to get VERY close before you can do anything at all with it. If he’s within range to grab you, almost any man can seriously harm a woman in the first split seconds. If he has any sort of weapon out, he will most likely hurt you very, very badly long before you can get close enough.

        A knife can be a very valuable secondary weapon, the more hidden the better, but it requires an incredible amount of training and practice to be effective with a blade in either case. Most of us just don’t have that kind of time and dedication for something with so little potential for effective defense. You wouldn’t spend years learning to speak Chinese in order to read fortune cookies. 🙂

        I carry an “assisted” opening knife of considerable size and weight. It was designed for an EMT, and has come in very handy… so far, for opening cartons and cutting rope. 🙂 I hope that’s all I ever need it for.

      • All I’ve used my EDC knives (a 4-inch CRKT assisted opening folder is my main knife, with a smaller one carried elsewhere on my body for backup) for so far is “utility tasks” – opening boxes, cutting cord, pulling staples from target stands, and the like.

        I hope never to need them for more than that, but am prepared to use any means at my disposal to save my life.

        Things politically are crazy here for gun owners, as you know. But in a trio of recent arguments before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges sounded skeptical of arguments that giving an elected official unfettered discretion over the exercise of an enumerated constitutional right was permissible. They also seemed receptive at oral argument to the idea that states could not ban BOTH open and concealed carry. So we’ll see what happens.


  1. […] understand how you can be so VIOLENT!” When I asked her what she meant, she referred to this post, and to how I’d looked at the situation and lessons learned. “How can you go through […]

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