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.

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Safety in Numbers?

777060_28725674There’s a persistent myth in our society that “there’s safety in numbers”. “Go out in a group”, conventional wisdom tells us. “There’s danger in being alone,” it says. Conventional wisdom left out an important caveat, though: Just like being alone, there’s only safety in a group when the group is alert, oriented to and aware of its surroundings. Otherwise, the only thing being in a group does is to create a bigger pool of ready victims for the predator.

In fact, that’s sort of the origin of the expression “safety in numbers”. Think about a school of trout swimming upstream. Without warning, a bear plunges his hungry maw into the water and snatches up three fish. There are a zillion trout in the school, so the odds of the bear taking any particular fish are pretty low. Add more fish, and the individual risk of being selected drops slightly more. But this is no comfort for the three trout who – because of inattention, age, infirmity, or just plain bad luck – landed in the bear’s mouth.

So, how can we increase our odds of staying safe when we’re out in a group? Here are some suggestions:

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