Local cops have advice to protect you, yours

Of 22 tips, most boil down to being alert to your surroundings

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter



If an officer approaches you

So you know what kind of practices police would like you to adopt to prevent yourself from becoming the victim of a crime. But when it comes to interacting with police when you’re at the scene of the crime — and a potential suspect — what are you supposed to do? For that kind of advice, we turned to a defense attorney.

If a police officer detains you, being polite can be to your benefit, said attorney Jon McMullen, who often works with felons. He’s been practicing law for about 30 years.

“We see a lot of problems that could be avoided with a little consideration toward police,” he said. “That’s the way it’s set up.”

With that in mind, he added that it’s not a good idea to argue with police, to tell them how to do their job or to resist their commands. These situations can quickly escalate, McMullen said. If police tell you to show them your hands or get down on the ground, follow those directions.

It’s human nature to immediately want to defend yourself, or argue if you think what’s happening to you is not fair.

“There’s a time to do that later. It’s in court,” McMullen said.

You’re held responsible for what you say. Although direct quotes and video of your behavior may not end up in a police report, inflection and mannerisms are easy to remember.

McMullen said that people often don’t know if they’re being investigated as a potential suspect in a case. While some officers are direct about it, others may not be as clear in how they frame their questions. That’s why it’s important to ask for legal representation early in the process.

“You don’t have to speak with them if you don’t want to,” McMullen said. “If you exercise your rights, the police are okay with that — as they should be.”

— Patty Hastings

If police officers could give people advice, what would they say?

We're not talking about life advice from a well-meaning relative. (Though, when asked, one cop did remind people to eat right, exercise regularly and abstain from smoking cigarettes.) Their advice revolves around potentially preventing victimization, and essentially starting to think more like a cop.

Law enforcement officers are trained to keep their head on a swivel while they patrol their beats; situational awareness was a constant theme through the advice dolled out by officers at several local law enforcement agencies.

Here are 22 tips on personal safety and crime prevention from the Vancouver, La Center and Camas police departments, the Clark County Sheriff's Office, and the Washington State Patrol.

Protect yourself on foot …

• If you're getting around on foot or by bike, limit your distractions. Although you might be tempted to put in ear buds, pull your hood up or text while you walk, Vancouver police say this isn't a good idea. You won't be able to hear or see everything that's going on around you.

• Stand tall and walk confidently to avoid looking like a victim, advises the La Center Police Department. If you feel unsafe in a place or situation, trust your instincts and leave.

• The Camas Police Department suggests that pedestrians stick to busy streets and well-lit areas, especially at night. The same rule applies for parking your car, if you expect to return after dark.

• If you're walking with a bag or purse, keep it close to your body and maintain a firm grip on it.

• Learn CPR and learn how to use an automated external defibrillator as well, Vancouver police say.

• "Before you enter a store or business (or leave a store or business), stop and take a moment to look in (or out) and see who is out there," said Detective Kevin Harper, who investigates crimes against the elderly for the Clark County Sheriff's Office.

"Is there someone standing there for no apparent reason, maybe looking about? Did someone park right next to your car, even though there were other, potentially more convenient, places to park? If it looks or feels suspicious — you get that little red flag about something — then it is suspicious and deserves a second look."

• "When calling 911, take a deep breath, then start with what you are reporting and the location. Direction of travel is especially important on freeways and highways," said Carolee Edwards, communications officer with the State Patrol.

… in your home …

• Don't leave the garage door open slightly for animals, Camas police say. Burglars can fit under the door, as well.

• Keep windows and doors securely locked, even when you're at home.

• Don't leave valuables, such as your purse, wallet or cellphone, near an entryway to your home, Camas police advise. If a burglar gets inside, you want these items to be the last thing they find, not the first.

• If you believe someone has broken into your home while you're there, quietly call 911. If you can leave the house safely, do so. Otherwise, lock yourself in the room that you're in and pretend to be asleep.

• Store firearms in a safe; area cops were universal about properly storing firearms.

• Jot down the serial number and models of your valuables. If there aren't any, take pictures of the items.

• If you return home and find that the windows are broken, a screen has been cut or a door is left open, don't go inside. Call the police first.

• Don't keep an identification tag on your key ring. If you lose your keys or someone steals them, the information could help a thief find your car and burglarize your home.

… and in your vehicle

• Keep this information about your vehicle in a safe place: the year, make, model, color, vehicle identification number, license number, the insurance company and policy number, as well as a description of any identifying marks.

• Warming up your vehicle in the morning? "Please detach a vehicle's remote control and lock all the vehicle doors while the engine is running and warming up the interior. Most cars get stolen in the morning just because people leave an easy access into the ready-to-go car," said sheriff's Deputy Paul Uminski.

• Lock the car doors when you get inside and keep them locked while driving.

• La Center police advise people to always lock their car and take the keys with them, no matter how long they'll be away from their car.

• Do not leave the keys in your car, even if it's parked in your garage. If a burglar breaks into your garage, they can get your car and house keys.

• Never pick up hitchhikers.

• Store valuables in the trunk of your car, or otherwise, keep them out of sight.